"You've got 250 words", they said. This was my instruction for writing a blog on my first year of employment with the RSPB. "250 words!? That's only 20 words per month. How about 500?", I asked. "OK", they said. So, I better get on with it, as I've already wasted 10% of them.

Having been a member of the RSPB since the age of ten (back in the days of the Young Ornithologist Club), becoming the Area Manager for West Sussex was the culmination of a very long apprenticeship. It's been an apprenticeship that's involved an ecology degree and working for other conservation bodies but also many years spent in PR and marketing, at newspapers and a stint running a restaurant. It might seem surprising but, for an Area Manager, all of these skills are vital. For the outsider, one might assume that a job at the RSPB would concentrate on birds and habitat management but, for many reserves,  business management skills and being able to manage complex relationships with external stakeholders are vital to our continued success.

My overall impression, after a year of working at the RSPB, is that we have the most enthusiastic and dedicated staff that I have ever worked with. However, with all the modern day pressures on our environment, it sometimes feels that a Herculean effort is necessary just to maintain the status quo. It is therefore essential that we continue to achieve more and more support for our work, engaging and encouraging new members and asking even more of our current members.

On my appointment, I became responsible for the management of the Pulborough Brooks and the Adur Estuary reserves. In my own mind, I also became a rare bird magnet as, on my first day at Pulborough, the reserve recorded its first ever yellow-browed warbler.  In February, as we took over the management of Pagham Harbour Local Nature Reserve, my self-determined role as a lucky charm continued with the finding of a paddyfield warbler. Not only was this the first record for the reserve but the first for West Sussex. I should point out that I am now available for hire, if any reserve is down on its luck in attracting rare birds.

Our reserves are not just about the rarities though and it has been fantastic to be at Pulborough and experience such a wide diversity of birds and habitats throughout the year; from nightjars on our heathland in the summer, to peregrines hunting teal on our wetlands in the winter. Standing on the North Wall at Pagham at dusk in winter and having a thousand brent geese fly over your head is also an amazing experience.

However, my favourite experience of my first year with the RSPB was getting to know Wally. Wally is a water rail that turned up at Pulborough last winter. A few mealworms encouraged Wally to feed out in the open, just a few metres away from our shop window, delighting hundreds of visitors for several months, before he disappeared around Easter. It was fantastic to see so many people experience an otherwise shy and elusive bird.

And, Wally is also my favourite bird of the first week of my second year with the RSPB - he turned up again last week!

An elusive water rail, by Mike Richards (rspb-images.com)