Blogger: Jane Delaney, Local Groups and Volunteering Support Officer
I wanted a holiday but was on a budget. How could I get away and discover an exciting new location, meet new people, have fun and do something useful? I know, I’ll go residential volunteering!
I spoke to the lovely ladies in the Residential Volunteering department and we looked at the options available for just a week – RSPB Saltholme it is! Saltholme is a new and exciting urban reserve near Hartlepool that only opened in 2009. The flat I stayed in was great with a sea-view and some lovely other vols and staff, Dan & Rhian.
So, what would I be doing?
Day one I helped out at the visitors centre by encouraging people to sign the RSPB marine pledge and telling them about the “Date with Nature” (DWN) event with common seals that were just down the road. In the afternoon I went down and joined the “DWN” team, it was great to see the children (old and young alike!) enjoy looking through the scopes and watching the seals play and lounge about on the bank.
Day two was more of a challenge – I was chief pot washer in the VERY popular Cafe as I was soon to find out! The Cafe has a great team lead by Anne and although hard work and a bit hot and sweaty at times I had a fun day and a free roast dinner to boot!
Day three and four I had off and explored the reserve and surrounding area – great fish & chips in Whitby (drop me a line if you want a recommendation!)
Day five I spent the morning with Barbara, an inspiring and passionate reserve volunteer who has been at Saltholme since before it opened. She was planning a guided walk for the next day for some VIPs and I was her guinea pig! The afternoon was going to be a whole new territory for me – children! There was a school visiting with lots of enthusiastic 6 and 7 year olds. I helped the Susan, Lifelong Learning Officer, teach the children how to use binoculars to find birds and then took them along to the Wildlife Watch Point hide where they had a brilliant time spotting the birds from their bingo lists.
My last day on the reserve I joined the VIPs on their guided walk, they were new RSPB members in the area and were keen to explore the reserve and hear all about it’s history. We chatted over soup and a roll for lunch and then went back out exploring and spent some more time in the hides.
Did I enjoy my resi vol holiday at Saltholme? I think the fact that on my last day I had to be asked to leave the Phil Stead hide in the car park, long after closing time, so they could lock it up answers that!
Jane “Swamp Sparrow” Delaney bird spots of the week – pectoral sandpiper and garganey!
If you fancy trying some residential volunteering you can find out more at http://www.rspb.org.uk/volunteering/residential.aspx or talk to Kate TycerTel: 01767 680551, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Blogger: Matt Howard, Community Collections Scheme Officer
I was delighted to be asked by Waveney and Blyth Arts to join them on their Breydon Water ‘Poetry and Birds Walk’. The brief was simple, talk about birds in poetry and how such work brings us closer to nature, and then set a writing exercise for the group to try. This gave me a chance to think more about the connections between two of my interests, but where do you start? I mean, poetry and birds; are there any two subjects that conjure stronger stereotypes of closed worlds where only the devout obsessive gets granted admission?
Thankfully the walk didn’t over stretch my fledgling birding skills. Amongst what we saw were curlew, oystercatchers, herons and little egrets. Just putting names to these was a discovery for some of our group, for others perhaps it was making that mental note of the call that will help place a curlew the next time they go walking, or maybe on the walk after that. For all of us there was space away from the workaday, fresh air for the lungs, good company and gentle exercise.
For me the arts are a way of finding and allowing us more of ourselves. For as long as poems have been written, birds have featured. It’s amazing how much they are used in our language to help us express how we feel or think. Of course, poetry can seem or be difficult, but it can also be unbelievably simple, it’s a way of tuning in. Take ‘Adelstrop’ by Edward Thomas; he describes a simple pause sat on a train in June, just noting what happens, but builds to the simple but essential idea of the interconnectedness of all things:
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloustershire.
Whether it’s poetry or birds, meet them on the level that you want to and each time I guarantee you will get closer, bringing back one thing, great or small, from each walk or reading. If this leads to a deep knowledge of say, curlew behaviour, or an understanding of the inner workings of a sonnet or sestina, then that’s wonderful. But it doesn’t have to. That one thing can be as simple as being stilled by the brilliant white of egrets or the individual phrase sung by the blackbird in your garden, and as in that image given to us by Thomas, there are all the blackbirds beyond it, and by extension, all of nature. Tune in, it’s all there, close by.
Photo credit: Matt Howard
Blogger: Steve Rowland, Public Affairs Manager
I bumped into a Marsh Harrier the other day, a wonderfully pale almost sandy coloured male bird, quartering a field of wheat that gently sloped down towards the Wash. The presence of this bird here, feels right as a part of the landscape that went missing for many years that has now returned.
Watching Marsh Harriers in your lunch break is a pleasure that I don’t take for granted, even in their UK heartland of East Anglia. Here Marsh Harriers nest as you might expect in reed beds but have also in recent years adapted to nesting in cereal crops. Yet just 40 years ago, in 1971, following decades of persecution and habitat loss there was just one pair of Marsh Harriers nesting in the UK, at the RSPB’s Minsmere nature reserve on the Suffolk coast. Since then, although there are still only a few hundred nests each year in the UK, they have thankfully steadily increasing in numbers and are spreading back into their former haunts.
This recovery wouldn’t have happened without two key tools in the RSPB’s conservation tool box. Firstly the protection and management by staff and volunteers of special places such as the reed beds at the RSPB’s Minsmere and Titchwell Marsh nature reserves. These sites act as arks, where beleaguered species can get some much needed TLC.
Secondly our work with others, in the case of Marsh Harriers farmers in and around the agricultural hinterland of The Wash in Norfolk and Lincolnshire. RSPB staff and volunteers have worked with these farmers to protect crop nesting Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers. We have also worked here with the Police and others to ensure that the birds are protected from illegal persecution.
As my lunchtime Harrier drifts away and out of view I am reminded of all of the work done by so many people over the last four decades stepping up for nature, that has resulted in my brief encounter with one of our most beautiful and charismatic birds.
If you’d like to see what opportunities exist to step up for nature near you please take a look at our website http://www.rspb.org.uk/steppingup/
Photo credit: Ben Hall (rspb images)
Blogger: Rachael Murray, Media Officer
It’s traditionally used to follow friends, famous faces and current affairs, but this Autumn we are using Twitter to track the arrival of thousands of wintering geese. As part of a UK-wide initiative, the conservation charity is asking people in Norfolk to ‘tweet’ sightings or pictures of the birds using the hashtag #goosewatch.
Every year, as part of their migratory journey, hundreds of thousands of geese feed and roost on farmers’ fields and coastal estuaries in Norfolk. The most commonly sighted species across the county include the pink-footed goose, white fronted goose and the brent goose. In Norfolk, the appearance of pink-footed geese from around 09 September has traditionally heralded the start of Autumn in the wildlife world. The first birds make the thousand-mile flight from Iceland in early September, but the bulk of them do not arrive in Norfolk until October , when groups of a staggering 40k – 50k can be seen together in North Norfolk locations including RSPB Snettisham nature reserve. Brent Geese travel from Siberia, appearing a little later in the year, with first sightings in Norfolk usually from the end of September.
Reports of sightings in Scotland, the first of the RSPB regions to use Twitter in this way, are already coming in thick and fast through the social networking site. Reports of a large geese flock over the RSPB’s Loch of Strathbeg nature reserve on Friday morning kick-started the tweets. Last year, the reserve recorded one of the biggest flocks in the UK with up to 70,000 geese using the reserve as a night –time roost.
The arrival of the geese is very much a highlight of Norfolk’s wildlife calendar, and the first are due any day now. By using twitter to report sightings we can track their progress online and get an idea of where the large flocks are stopping across the country. So the more people who are watching the skies the better!
Our dear friend from head office, Emily Sanders, our Social Media Manager, says: “Twitter isn’t all about tracking your friends and celebrities, using it in this way will provide the RSPB with important information about the movements of our geese. And it’s testament to how much people love wildlife that they are squeezing in some tweets about this in amongst their updates on their daily lives. Our supporters are always telling us about the weird and wonderful sightings they are seeing in their gardens and further afield. It brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘tweet’ – although in this case it is more like a loud ‘honk!’”
Wintering geese traditionally start to arrive in mid September, with numbers reaching their peak in early Winter. We are inviting anyone with a Twitter account to share their goose sightings or pictures by using the #goosewatch hashtag. Those without a Twitter account can email sightings through email@example.com.
Photo credit: Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Staff and residents of Bupa care homes across Hertfordshire will be keeping an eye out for creatures that croak, flap, cheep and snuffle for Bupa’s Wildlife Week (26 September – 2 October), a new initiative which aims to encourage more wildlife into care home grounds and gardens.
As part of a UK wide initiative, 14 care homes in Hertfordshire are taking the lead by organising a week of activities, including building hedgehog havens, bug hotels and painting special bird boxes, following advice from our nice people at RSPB Head Office.
Many of the homes are also inviting schools and members of the local community to lend a hand in transforming their grounds and help spot any new wildlife visiting the homes during the week. Mandy Jackson, Bupa regional manager for Hertfordshire, said: “This initiative gives all of our residents the chance to get involved, from helping staff build new homes for wildlife to simply watching out for their favourite birds or butterflies. It’s also the perfect project to suit all of our care homes, whether they have big lawns or smaller patios and private gardens for the residents to enjoy.”
RSPB research has shown that access to nature and green spaces is important for older people and those recovering from illness, with the benefits of wildlife gardening including increased physical and mental activity as well as developing a sense of purpose. Richard Bashford, another RSPB fellow, told us: “Teaming up with over 300 Bupa care homes throughout the UK will make a huge difference to many of the common species in decline and we want as many people as possible to get involved – whether that’s volunteering at a local home or making their own gardens more appealing to wildlife. We hope both people and wildlife will reap the rewards of this partnership.”
Anyone wanting to find out more about Bupa’s Wildlife Week can call into a local Bupa care home to receive a free RSPB ‘Homes for Wildlife’ pack full of simple advice and recommendations for all types and sizes of garden. To find the nearest Bupa care home or local event, call 0845 600 4622 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Further details about the RSPB’s project, Bupa’s Wildlife Week and advice on how to make your home appealing to wildlife can be found at www.bupa.co.uk/wildlife
Photo credit: Adam Murray. Companion planting at Flatford Wildlife Garden, Suffolk