There can’t be many seven year old girls who prefer bird song to the songs of One Direction but then Gracie Mae Mortimer is quite unusual.
Not only is she passionate about nature, she’s also just become the youngest volunteer at the RSPB’s internationally renowned nature reserve at Bempton Cliffs on the East Yorkshire coast. “So far I’ve been litter picking around the seabird centre and I’ve helped fill the bird feeders. Next I’m going to learn how to work the CCTV cameras so I can show visitors the puffins on the cliffs”, enthused Gracie.
Gracie’s Mum, Clare, and Dad, Keith, accompany her on her twice monthly visits to the reserve and have encouraged her to be curious about the natural world, as their parents did with them: “As a family, we enjoy being outdoors as much as possible and often walk from where we live in Bridlington up to Danes Dyke to explore the woods. We take a guide book with us and Gracie especially likes trying to identify anything interesting that we come across, from leaves to feathers.”
Gracie’s school, Boynton Primary, has also helped fuel her love of nature. Until funds ran out, they had cameras installed in nest boxes in the school grounds so that their pupils could see the birds inside raising their families.
RSPB Bempton Cliffs volunteer development officer, Ryan Chenery, invited Gracie to become a volunteer after she enquired about joining the RSPB’s junior section, Wildlife Explorers: “Gracie’s got enough energy for ten volunteers and puts her heart and soul into every job. Her Mum tells us she’s no Little Miss Perfect though - while she might be great at litter picking, she’s not quite as good at keeping her bedroom neat and tidy”.
Unbelievably, this isn’t Gracie’s first volunteering role. Four years ago, her Mum and Dad were heavily involved with the Bridlington and Driffield Mencap Society and three year old Gracie helped at fund raising events by folding raffle tickets and setting out the prizes for the tombola.
So will this experience convince Gracie to aim towards working for the RSPB when she grows up? “Well, I might be an archaeologist or a palaeontologist or a seal rescue worker. But I wouldn’t mind being a Puffin Patrol leader at Bempton Cliffs either.”
RSPB Bempton Cliffs would love to hear from potential volunteers of all ages. Anyone interested in helping out at the nature reserve should contact Ryan Chenery on 01262 422207 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
With nearly 14'000 volunteers across the British Isles, the RSPB really does rely on and value the work put in by those giving their free time to support the charity. As such, staff from the Volunteering department at RSPB HQ recently threw a volunteer thank-you event in the The Lodge gardens. Despite the (very) blustery conditions, the marquee's managed to stay put and a fabulous day was had by all. Here's a quick recap of the event...
The day began, like all good days should, with a welcome tea or coffee for the arriving volunteers, served up by the three staff members who had kindly agreed to run and host the event. After a brief time spent chatting to other volunteers, those in attendance were treated to the first of five talks from guest speakers detailing varying aspects of the RSPB's work and goals.
First up it was the turn of Kate Jennings, Head of Site Conservation Policy, who gave a talk on the Nature Directive's and all the work the RSPB does to protect and maintain the birds, wildlife and habitats most under threat.
Then came Rhoda Ludford, newly appointed Volunteering Development Consultant for the Schools on Reserves project. Having previously worked alongside Sallie Crawley in Volunteering Development, Rhoda actually helped organise the day itself but her talk gave us an insight into her new role and how the RSPB is looking to implement and improve it's volunteer activities for families on reserves. This was swiftly followed by a talk from Suzanne Welch, Education Manager, on the how the RSPB is working with teachers and pupils in the School's on reserves project.
It was then the turn of some volunteer spotlights and talks from some of the volunteers (myself included!) on what they do, why they volunteer, what they like about nature and so on. Two volunteers (Natalie Wren and Colin Gooch) were not in attendance so had their answers read out by Sallie or presented on a short video, whilst Colin Hawkins and myself made the brave (or stupid!) decision to make our speeches from the front of the marquee - but they went down well by all accounts and were over relatively quickly and pain free! (from my POV anyway)
Lunch was just on the horizon (or being laid out in the second marquee anyway!) but there was still time for an interesting talk from the RSPB's Senior Legacy Adviser, Neil Barton, who took us through the processes involved in legacies left to the charity in Will's, including an amusing story about an African Grey Parrot that was part of a bequeathed legacy! Then came a quick group photo before everyone could turn their attention to the lovely spread of sandwiches, snacks and fruit laid on by the canteen staff.
A nice long lunch-break, enough for seconds (and possibly thirds!) was followed by the final talk of the day, a fascinating and engaging look at the RSPB's conservation projects, from Director of Operations Shaun Thomas. He then stuck around to hand out some long-service awards to volunteers and also joined us for a second group photo, this time outside thanks to the Sun popping out for a bit! The day then drew to a close with chats with various line managers chatting to their volunteers, accompanied by a final slice of cake and a hot drink of course.
A lovely day was had by all and many thanks should go to Sallie, Rhoda and all the other staff who helped out and/or gave speeches for their work and organisation of an event to show their appreciation of us, their wonderful volunteers!
Monitoring our rare natterjack toads through the breeding season
With some key volunteers moving on, and no warden until July, Senior Site Manager Peter Bradley was concerned about covering this year’s natterjack breeding season. Following on from an email he sent to staff at headquarters, Peter was bowled over by the great response from staff, which meant that the toads have been monitored and protected better than ever in 2015.
A threatened species
Natterjacks were present on the Greensand Ridge between Sandy and Gamlingay until 1900. RSPB carried out a successful re-introduction from a Norfolk site in the 1980s. Since then, we’ve provided a range of artificial ponds, carefully managed to offer the best survival for this very rare amphibian. To help get the management right, the species is monitored during each breeding season. The Lodge has the longest continuous recording data of any natterjack site in the UK.
What we asked volunteers to do
Following Peter’s request, he received over twenty offers of help from staff and HQ volunteers. He ran two training sessions at the end of April, when volunteers learnt the theory and then went onto site to hear natterjacks calling, and to see natterjack spawn strings. Because natterjacks are a European Protected Species, all volunteers need to be issued documents to show they are working under license and have had sufficient training to carry out the work safely and effectively.
Results so far
The volunteers are working in weekly teams to check the ponds and report their findings, so that we have a full picture of the natterjack season. So far, there have been 62 strings laid by natterjacks (the best year for some time), and many thousands of tadpoles in five ponds. By the end of May small toadlets began to emerge from the main pond at the top of the old heath.
It hasn’t been plain sailing. Water levels have had to be monitored and topped up due to the dry weather, and nutrients in the water have meant mats of algae formed on the main pond, making it difficult to count the tadpoles and strings, and more importantly making life difficult for tadpoles. We have also had children throwing stones and branches into the main pond, and removing parts of the bank; it has been really useful having a large team of volunteers to check on the ponds and deter anyone causing problems for the toads.
There’s always more to do...
The toads are pretty well covered by existing volunteers now, but there is always more to do at The Lodge nature reserve. We are always in need of wildlife records, and especially help from experienced birdwatchers to help monitor our breeding birds such as the elusive hobbies. Then there is work on the heath – there will be requests coming out for volunteers to help in the annual attack on birch, starting again in September. If you would like to help in any way, please contact Peter Bradley at email@example.com