How to work with wildlife

A greenfinch's wing is measured as part of the ringing process Bird-ringing is one of the many "hands on" skills you can learn while volunteering

Every Wednesday Darren Mason leaves his day job to spend the afternoon among the thousands of seabirds nesting and soaring around the uninhabited outcrops of the Isles of Scilly.

As a wildlife volunteer, he gives "live interpretations" of Scilly's impressive populations of storm petrels, Manx shearwaters and other birds to visitors taking boat trips around the islands.

"I see four walls for most days of the week… so one day a week where I can get out into a boat with the sea breeze in your hair and see these fantastic creatures - yeah most definitely, it's brilliant," says Mr Mason, volunteer at the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project, run by the RSPB, Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, Natural England and other organisations.

Darren Mason Darren Mason, volunteer: "Whatever time you do give is always going to be valuable"

Talking to people about the Isles of Scilly's threatened seabirds and the conservation projects protecting them is a world away from Mr Mason's job as a sports therapist.

But he says his previous work in wildlife conservation inspired him to give time to helping out:

"I just thought it was time to give my time back freely, and I've known from working in nature conservation previously that there's an awful lot of people that do that out there."

Why volunteer?

Volunteering can be a rewarding way of giving back to the UK's wildlife.

And for some, it is also a valuable step into working with wildlife as a living. It provides an understanding of the environment and in some cases specific training that could impress future employers.

Leela O'Dea, an ecologist at the Canal and River Trust co-ordinates environmental volunteering projects. She says: "We get a lot of students or postgraduates... trying to bolster their CVs."

Montgomery Canal Volunteers help keep England's canals clean for wildlife and people to enjoy

But she explains peoples' reasons for volunteering are a complete mixture: "Some people just come for the social aspects... others for the training."

Leela says contributions from volunteers would be "absolutely invaluable" for a national hedgerow survey project she is organising: "We obviously know we've got six hundred miles of [hedgerows along canals], but we don't know how great they are for wildlife."

Volunteers play a central role for many wildlife charities and organisations across the UK. For example, more than 40,000 people contribute to BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) surveys.

And for every paid member of staff, the RSPB (Royal Society for Protection of Birds) have at least nine volunteers, without whom their work would be greatly diminished.

Volunteering activities can range from practical research to office work; acting as a wildlife guide; producing media content or supplying volunteers with tea and cake at large events. Some volunteers give their time to very hands-on activities to help the environment, such as litter-picking or clearing up waterways.

Start Quote

Volunteers are at the heart of what we do and achieve”

End Quote Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)

While some projects require a level of skill in a particular area, many offer training and there are lots of schemes where all that's needed is enthusiasm and some time.

If you want to get closer to wildlife but can't commit to volunteer work, you could try being a citizen scientist: Find out about wildlife surveys in the UK, or conduct a garden "BioBlitz" by recording the biodiversity you find in a square patch.

Darren Mason says for the sort of volunteering he does, you don't need to be an expert, just have a passion for nature or simply "a passion to try different things."

He advises: "Think really carefully about how much time you can give... but whatever time you do give is always going to be valuable."

Get involved

If you specifically want to volunteer with a charitable organisation, look for their registered number on the Charity Commission website.

There are lots of organisations where volunteers take on numerous different tasks, from bird ringing and bat caring to coppicing and cleaning up beaches.

A dunnock is released after being ringed A dunnock is released after being ringed

Larger organisations are likely to have a greater array of tasks on offer but organisations of all sizes will be eager to use your skills.

Young volunteers and people of varying ability are urged to consider volunteering. As the RSPB says: "Volunteers are at the heart of what we do and achieve".

To find a project, look in your local library, find your local volunteering centre, ask your work if they run any volunteering schemes, or visit the Directgov volunteering or Do-it search pages and select "Animals".

Or if you have a better idea of the area you'd like to work in, why not visit some of these organisations' websites to find out more about opportunities around the UK?

Do you have any wildlife volunteering stories? Tell us about them and join the big Summer of Wildlife conversation on Facebook and Twitter @BBCNature - #summerofwildlife.

And don't forget to share your photos on the Summer of Wildlife Flickr group - #seeitsnapitshareit.

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