Earlier this year, not one, not two, but three Local Groups celebrated momentous birthdays, helping to triumph the cause of nature and wildlife in their communities and beyond for 40 years!
July saw Leeds LG gather at Rodley Nature Reserve in the city to celebrate achieving their 40 years, whilst September brought two more birthdays with Derby and Exeter LG's both marking theirs with celebration. All three groups marked their celebrations with a collection of talks from special guests, a look back at the history and achievements of the groups themselves and of course the obligatory birthday cake!
Derby LG produced a six page history of the foundation of the group. This came about after an announcement earlier in the year of the passing of the first group leader, Albert Kent, and the realisation that many members of the group knew very little about the formation and the early years of the group. Included in the history was a time line from the first meeting, entrance fee 20p, to the present day.There were four long service awards presented, including to Pauline Alcock for 40 years of volunteering - Pauline was the first secretary of the group, a position she still holds today!
The meeting was entertained by Dr Michael Leach who gave an informative and entertaining talk entitled ‘In search of the Flower Kissers’ - a talk about humming birds.
Leeds LG held their event in the great outdoors (see above), the reserve volunteers laying on a series of nature activities including dragonfly identification at specially made dragonfly ponds. The Leeds Group Treasurer, David Hatfield, started off the formal part of the event by summing up the achievements of the group over the last 40 years. He estimated that they had raised at least £100,000 for the RSPB over that time! The event was then officially opened by Carol Tresadern, the Local Groups Co-ordinator for the Northern Region, who outlined the challenges faced by the RSPB and the vital role played by the local groups. And finally, long standing member Majorie Simpson gave a short speech saying how much the group had meant to her and her late husband, Norman, over the years and then cut the stunning avocet cake made by group member Duanne Watson.
And last but not least Exeter LG, who staggered their celebrations - a talk by Stan Davies, the first SW Regional Manager who took office in 1974, on the history of the RSPB in the SW kicked things off in September followed, a month later, with an open talk by Nick Baker about his fascination with bugs, which attracted lots of young visitors. Their AGM saw Dr Tim Stowe, Director of International Operations, give a talk on overseas work, followed by a delicious buffet and a celebration cake baked by Cilla Ingram. Finally they combined with the Royal Albert Museum in Exeter to host a Wildlife Event, attended by over 1000 people!
Some fantastic celebrations from some fantastic RSPB supporters and volunteers I'm sure you'll agree! If your Local Group has any birthday celebrations coming up and you would like to share them with us, send us an email to VolunteeringDevelopment@rspb.org.uk
RSPB staff are encouraged to spend one day a year volunteering elsewhere in the organisation. This includes those right at the top of the RSPB's 'food-chain' as Chief Executive Mike Clarke discovered.
He tells us about his day helping to clear out invasive plants at Baron's Haugh in Lanarkshire.
Baron's Haugh is a gem of a site. It's one of our reserves that I've never visited, so I jumped at the chance. 'Haugh' means flooded river meadow, a key habitat on the reserve.
Almost over-shadowed by Motherwell's tower blocks, the mighty Clyde that flows along the reserve boundary has some of the most natural riverbanks in the UK. It's home to often-seen otters and much like beaver habitat I've seen on rivers in Eastern Europe.
It's part of what was once a grand estate, with relict parkland, woods and formal landscapes at one end of the reserve. This, together with its urban edge location, mean that the reserve has a host of problems with invasive non-native species (INNS).
This was the second reason why I was so keen to volunteer here, because INNS are one of the biggest threats to biodiversity worldwide. Elsewhere, in Ayrshire for example, Himalayan balsam is a major issue on floodplains. This was my chance to take direct action!
So, I was delighted when Stephen Owen, our site manager, agreed for me to join the regular Thursday volunteer party to remove rhododendron around a badger sett before the deadline in the licence from Scottish Natural Heritage and before the rain set in later in the day, preventing chemical treatment of stumps.
I was even more pleased when I found my first task was to build a bonfire! To burn off the rhododendron we were bashing for the morning (and bringing out my inner pyromaniac and volunteer past...).
Loyal Band of Volunteers
Stephen is the only member of staff, managing a diverse site with lots of even more diverse visitors. We can only get things done by the loyal band of volunteers who, over the years, have improved just about every part of the reserve.
The Thursday volunteer team is a varied bunch, but unified by their passion for and commitment to nature - from a school leaver applying to university and a full-time carer who volunteers in his only time off, to regular retirees staying active. We'd cleared the rhododendron by lunch, so set about digging up snowberry bushes in the afternoon.
We chatted about ruddy ducks, telemarketing, the volunteer reward scheme and the fact that the RSPB is the nature charity brave enough to speak out on challenging issues. I was in awe of our volunteers' tolerance of our bureaucracy. Maybe people do appreciate some safeguards are necessary.
An active day outdoors
It reminded me that there really are some wonderful people in the world - and many of them are RSPB volunteers and supporters. I treasure all of them. The day wasn't so much about learning something new as reminding me of two important things. Following behind the volunteer team as we left, I could simply hear laughter ringing in the woods ahead of me.
The other thing? My own wellbeing. After a couple of fairly heavy weeks mainly in meetings, I was reminded how good it feels to spend an active day outdoors surrounded by wildlife.
Writing this on the train home - smoky, muddy and damp - I've had a great day as a volunteer.
We chat to Matthew Scott, a young volunteer, about his time with the RSPB...
Hi Matthew! When did you first begin volunteering with the RSPB and how often do you volunteer?
I started volunteering back in May 2011 and currently I am doing between one and three days per week.
And what inspired you to get involved?
I have been an RSPB member since I began secondary school and was passionate about wildlife and the environment for many years before that. As I got older I became more aware of the threats and pressures facing our natural environment, and felt compelled to do my part. A short length of time into my voluntary experience I was enjoying myself so much that I decided the nature conservation sector was that within which I wished to build my future career. This aspiration to attain a future career saving nature is what keeps me so keen and involved to this day, gaining valuable experience as I go. As well being driven towards gaining experience to help me on my career path I simply enjoy the work, feel like I am doing my part, am developing my interests, and find it all incredibly rewarding.
What does your work entail?
I have and still do volunteer across a number of roles with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, both locally in Northern Ireland and across the UK. I began volunteering by undertaking farmland bird surveys, which involve getting up at dawn and walking around farms recording the birdlife that you see and hear. I volunteer regularly as a Reserve Assistant at the organisation’s Portmore and Belfast Lough Reserves, where I undertake a variety of wetland habitat management activities, biological surveying, and people engagement. Recently I became involved in the RSPB’s policy and advocacy work whereby I have looked at legislative issues with potential to affect the environment, drafted up media releases and spoken at the Northern Ireland Assembly. On the UK wide scale I have carried out 22 weeks Residential Volunteering across four reserves. This has involved working in a variety of environments, from off-shore islands to mountainous uplands to industrial areas, and a variety of roles. During this time I have learnt valuable visitor engagement, volunteer management, animal husbandry, species identification, survey, water management, and diverse habitat management skills.
What skills and qualities are required for your role?
Communication skills are very important as, on a daily basis, I am communicating with a range of staff, volunteers, and members of the public verbally. Or as has been the case with my campaigning work, communicating in writing and speech to the public and politicians. However, as I have passed through my volunteering journey I have greatly developed and enhanced these skills. With regard to essential qualities, you need to be someone who is willing to accept a challenge, doesn’t mind undertaking simple or repetitive tasks, and isn’t bothered by working in bad weather; as in practical reserve work you will regularly encounter all of the above! I have used and, as with communication, greatly developed teamwork and leadership skills.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering?
I’ve really enjoyed the chance to learn new skills and develop existing ones. I have seen the positive impact that the volunteering actions of myself and others are having on special places and public perceptions of nature. Then lastly, I have met some incredible people along the way; some of the friendliest, funniest, most passionate and inspirational I know.
So you would encourage others to get involved?
Absolutely! The experiences that you have through volunteering for the RSPB are just fantastic. Getting access to places that are normally out of bounds to the public means you get the opportunity to see some truly amazing things, often without prior warning. If you have any interest in nature conservation or the environment at all, the things you learn and the people you meet are invaluable, with several of my volunteering colleagues having gone on to secure employment in the sector. Finally, as an organisation the RSPB are fantastic at providing you with all you need to be a happy and effective volunteer. Making provision for training, support, and feedback, and maintaining good standards of communication.
And lastly, what advice would you give to someone starting to volunteer?
I would highly recommend that you really get stuck in to your chosen role. It might be a cliché, but the more you put into it the more you get out of it. If you are at all interested in working in the sector I would say that you should fully immerse yourself in all the volunteering opportunities available, covering a variety of aspects of the organisation’s work and a variety of sites. In doing this you will see what you enjoy best, and the potential to learn is incredible. You don’t know what doors and opportunities could be opened to you, but embrace them.
Many thanks Matthew, and keep up the good work!