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Berkshire volunteer takes up residence at RSPB reserve

Last modified: 07 November 2011

Southern tip of Haweswater

The southern tip of Haweswater

Image: Andy Hay

A volunteer from Berkshire has been ‘Stepping up for Nature’ by becoming a residential volunteer with the RSPB.

Chris Swatridge, 25, from Bracknell and Ian Loyd, 21, from Twyford outside Reading have both taken up the opportunity to support nature conservation and get hands on experience.

Chris, who has been volunteering at Coombes & Churnet Valleys in Staffordshire, said: “I decided to become a residential volunteer because I am passionate about nature. After I completed my masters in research degree, I started applying for jobs in conservation, but didn’t get anywhere and it was clear that I needed more experience.

“To start with I volunteered once a week at RSPB Farnham Heath in Surrey. As I was working in an office at the time, I thought that this was a brilliant idea – even though it was January! I helped with scrub clearing in the cold and wet and had an amazing time.

“I still wanted to do residential volunteering and have now been at Coombes & Churnet Valleys for over seven months and absolutely love it!

“I’ve been on lots of courses and am now qualified on an all terrain vehicle, chainsaw and also have a first aid at work qualification. As a warden intern I am principally responsible for estate management, leading other volunteers on work parties and survey work. But I’ve also been on many off-site events and helped out on visitor activities on the reserve.”

Ian, who is at Haweswater in Cumbria, said: “I became a volunteer because I have had a life long passion for birds and other wildlife and working for the RSPB meant that I can put something back in and support the great work that the RSPB do.

“Also I’m seeking a career in conservation and realise that the practical experience gained on a volunteer placement would be helpful to me.

 "My work at Haweswater was even better than I hoped, friendly and enthusiastic people; spectacular scenery, worthwhile work and stunning wildlife. I learnt about the need to consider the broader landscape when addressing species population decline. Although the work was sometimes physically hard it was purposeful and satisfying."

Residential volunteering is just one of the ways people can do their bit and ‘Step up for Nature’.

Volunteers are critical to the RSPB’s work and provide an invaluable contribution to nature conservation while also gaining useful experience. You can volunteer from two weeks to a year on the scheme, taking your pick from 43 RSPB sites in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  

You not only get to live in some of the most beautiful locations and be part of the reserve team but you’ll also know you’re helping with vital conservation work.

Chris added: “Living on the reserve with other interns has been great. We’re all in the same position and we’ve had a real laugh, they’ve all made the experience that little bit better.

“I’ve just applied and got an interview for an assistant warden at Nagshead reserve in Gloucestershire, so the programme works. My future plan is to be a site manager for the RSPB. I have loved everything about the RSPB since my first day and would love to be a paid member of staff for a long time to come!

And if you’re a people person there are also opportunities to get involved in working face to face with the public or help with promoting the reserve. You could be writing newsletters telling people about all the important work being carried out, giving talks to the local community or helping out run events.

Jenny Sweet, the south east volunteer development officer said: “This just shows how valuable volunteering can be, enabling those who’d like to pursue a career in conservation some really excellent practical experience. 

“Alternatively, we have other volunteers who simply like to spend a couple of weeks at a reserve to enjoy a working holiday.”

To download a residential volunteering scheme brochure and application form, visit our website at

The RSPB’s ‘Stepping Up for Nature’ movement encourages everybody to take steps, no matter how big or small, in order to help protect nature and ensure the Government meets its target to halt the decline in biodiversity by 2020.

For more information on what you can do visit

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