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Volunteering for wildlife

Martin Hughes-Games Martin Hughes-Games | 15:28 UK time, Monday, 31 May 2010

Have you ever tried ringing birds? Terrifying! An enormous pair of pliers and a tiny stick-like bird's leg. Oh dear... what a combination! But ringing is actually crucial work to monitor what's happening to bird populations. I was lucky enough to try bird ringing as part of a short run of volunteering films we have made for this year's Springwatch.

A peregrine chick at my peregrine-ringing shoot.
peregrine chick at ringing by Sam Dixon
We also went out (in the pouring rain!) with a group of volunteers to put up man-made otter dens (holt) to encourage otters to repopulate rivers in Surrey. The holts had been designed and refined over many years by an inspirational man called Chris Matcham. Chris has made his artificial holts entirely from recycled materials and tested them in a wildlife park to see how the otters took to them. Once the otters had actually used his artificial holt to give birth in he knew he'd got it right!

The water vole is currently the UK's most threatened mammal. We 'processed' and released around 60 of them with an amazingly dedicated team of volunteers in Cumbria, one of whom (Alison Reed) had dedicated over a year of her life to breeding and bringing up dozens of water voles in her back garden.

Most recently I jumped off a cliff, high above the Avon Gorge in Bristol, with bird-mad volunteer climbers in order to help ring some peregrine chicks. I think I'd call that more 'extreme volunteering'.

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When it comes to helping British wildlife there are a vast range of volunteering possibilities. It's massively rewarding, you meet some truly inspirational people just like I did and could even satisfy a yearn for an adrenaline rush. Find out about volunteering opportunities around you by going to BBC Breathing Places.

Finally, how about you? Do you volunteer? Do you find it rewarding? Do you perhaps have any advice/pointers for people wanting to volunteer to help wildlife? Let me know by commenting below.


  • Comment number 1.

    Recently you asked if anyone had heard a Cuckoo. Well although I walk about 5 miles each weekend (when possible)last year I did not hear one. This year I have heard eight! One near Hartfield in West Sussex near the Ashdown Forest, one near Wivelsfield in East Sussex, three in different parts of the New Forest and three yesterday near Ashurst along the river Adur, two of them at the same time, FANTASTIC! It is a sound I adore and summer never seems the same without it.

  • Comment number 2.

    Sadley I havent heard a Cuckoo in North Dorset for about 4 years - where are they ?

  • Comment number 3.

    Whilst out walking, why not consider taking something like a carrier bag with you and (carefully!) pick up litter as you go along, as some of us do here. It can be unbelieveably satisfying on your return journey to walk along unlittered countryside/pavements and it also helps our smaller wildlife, too! There's nearly always a litter bin somewhere along the way to dispose of your rubbish.

  • Comment number 4.

    Forgot to mention, always be safety conscious whilst picking up other peoples rubbish. Use gadgets designed for the purpose, or use gloves, wash hands thorougly afterwards, and be aware that there may be some items that you should not attempt to pick up.

  • Comment number 5.

    My Dad did voluntary work for an RSPB reserve in Liverpool and saw his first ever Spoonbill whilst painting a bird hide.

  • Comment number 6.

    2 Years ago in the Summer - I volunteered for Birmingham's RSPB, at Sheldon Country Farm - next to where Simon King went looking for the Muntjac deer that one year.

    It was a double RSPB event I was volunteering for; 'Aren't Birds Brilliant' (now called: 'A Date with Nature') and 'Down on the Farm' - I was helping to spread the awareness of the plight of the House Sparrow.

    During helping children make plastic Dragonflies, masks and children having their faces painted, I got them to tell me what wildlife they had seen, also asked them to think of their favourite animals and then I told them about the plight of the House Sparrow (the whole point of me being their) and because I wasn't exactly an adult yet the children listened and were interested.

    I feel I made a difference and kick started some children off to become wildlife lovers and conservationists.

    All the activities we did had a suggested donation and I'm sure some days we nearly around £100, I really do think seeing a young face volunteering for a conservation organisation got peoples and children's attention so they came over and took part in activities and money went to charity down to the suggested donations.

    Wildlife Filmer Adam

  • Comment number 7.

    I volunteer every week for the Water of Leith Conservation Trust in Edinburgh. I walk along a stretch of the river, report on pollution incidents, pick litter, report on large incidents of littering, report on vandalism, record the wildlife I see and record the number of people I see using the pathways or fishing. It's very rewarding, it means I've got to know a local area really well, seeing it change through the seasons, I know where certain species can be seen. Also I know that the team of volunteers make a real difference to the river, through weekly patrolling (as I do) and regular large scale clean ups. Through the trust I've accessed training events on bats and invertebrates.

  • Comment number 8.

    If you live in or near to Dorset, we (Dorset Wildlife Trust) have some great opportunities for wildlife volunteering. Take a look at our volunteering page at www.dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/volunteering-dorset-wildlife-trust.html the news items will give you a good idea of the sort of things we get up to! You can also read our blog which has some blog posts written by our younger volunteers https://wildlifevolunteers.wordpress.com/ All ages welcome. You don't need to have any experience of wildlife or volunteering - just come along! Jane

  • Comment number 9.

    I did two weeks volunteer work in Janurary of last year (09) at the Loch Garten reserve near Aviemore. Flew up from Southampton to Inverness and stayed on site at the reserve for the whole 2 weeks before flying home again. I marked trees in a pattern for felling, and actually helped fell some trees myself to let in sunlight to the forest floor which help blaeberry grow, which are the main diet of Capercaillie and their chicks. Went deer stalking with a ranger as the deer population was exploding and had to be controlled as they were eating the blaeberry and other plants the rare Capercaillie chicks eat. Also got to do quite a bit of birdwatching as the heavy snow meant a lot of the reserve became inaccessible for a couple of days. Saw Capercaillie, Black Grouse (lekking), Crested Tit, Red Kite, Red Grouse, Snow Bunting, and many other species.

  • Comment number 10.

    I go on Newt surveys in Fife with a group Fife Amphibian and Reptile Group. Great Crested Newts are part of Fife's biodiversity plan. I also help survey butterflys, moths, bee's and squirrels. Sometimes we help local groups plant trees or clear areas or just do whatever needs doing. Clearing ponds and digging ponds for the newts is what we do the most. It is urgently needed as a lot are overgrown or too clogged and brackish for the newts, we mainly see palmate and sometimes smooth newts, I really hope to see a great crested by the end of summer. Also someone spotted a green hair streak butterfly on one of our survey sites which has never been seen up here before well in that bit.It could also be important for climate change. Its good fun and I love it. Cat

  • Comment number 11.

    There are many different volunteering opportunities available to help improve your local environment. Local Record Centres, which collect, collate and manager wildlife species records are crying out for people to send in species records of what they see when they are out and about. Records can be as common as a grey squirrel or something uncommon like a slender ground hopper. So next time you are out an about, take a small notebook and jot down what you see. A record consists of a species name, a date, your name and as much location information as possible. A grid reference or post code is ideal. A list of all local record centres can be found at https://www.nbn-nfbr.org.uk/nfbr.php.

    RECORD, The Biodiversity Information System for Cheshire, Halton, Warrington and Wirral have around 50 volunteers who key wildlife species records into our online data input software. Recorders and the general public send spreadsheets of records into us. We also have around 30 dedicated county recorders, which go out and record specific species across the county. All are volunteers. For more information see over at: www.record-lrc.co.uk.

  • Comment number 12.

    For over a year now I have volunteered as a sussex wildlife trust youth ranger - we have our own wildlife garden in which we have planted hedgerows and apple trees, built raised beds and filled them with wild flowers for the bees and we also have a gorgeous large pond full of aquatic plants - marsh marigold, yellow flag iris. Although we're all between 16 and 25, we indulged in some pond-dipping ( a 'kids' thing ) one hot summers day, and were rewarded with tiny translucent newts and huge voracious dragonfly larvae! We also grow organic food and cook it over the campfire. We've done night walks and have heard and seen pipestrelle and noctule bats, as well as badgers and tawny owls. Has been such a wonderful experience an the people I've met are all really lovely. Next weekend - we'll all be volunteering at the springwatch festival in Stanmer park!

  • Comment number 13.

    Great to hear your stories guys!

    Sam :)

  • Comment number 14.

    We are lucky enough to live right next to a SSSI reserve at Hadfast Valley Cousland, and have ringers here very weekend doing CES studies. Last week, and your Willow Warbler last night reminded me - they had this record...........
    Yesterday's Willow Warbler was a good retrap:
    First ringed at Hadfast in August 2006 as a 3J (just fledged)
    Retrapped at Hadfast 2007
    Retrapped at Hadfast 2008
    Apparently not retrapped in 2009 (could be checked on latest Group database)
    Retrapped yesterday, 2010.
    4 successful african migrations and all the way back to Hadfast!

    A tiny fantastic bird coming back to us each year to breed. We also have a large population of Red listed Tree Sparrows using the nest boxes put up by the village youth club kids, which all had good broods last year and some are now on their 2nd this year. These are ringed too..........it is such a valuable resource carried out by enthusiastic volunteers. I particularly like getting a close up look at the birds when they are removed from the nets and boxes for ringing.
    It's a very special place.

  • Comment number 15.

    Regarding cuckoos. I too haven't heard one this year in Bewdley. My friend who lives just outside ombersley has heard loads has even seen them in a large tree near her home. Maybe I've just missed them I hope so.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    I have been a volunteer for the Norfolk Wildlife Trust for 3 years and have spoken to many people visiting our Norfolk Broads. It is encouraging to see so many who are interested in wildlife and the conservation of their habitat. I also volunteer for Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve, a wonderful place for the Marsh Harrier and many other species of bird, mammal (especially the Water Vole)together with a fantastic variety of insects, moths etc. Finally I volunteer for our local Broad, help raising funds and removal of the invasive, non-native Himalayan Balsam. It's all very satisfying work and makes me feel that it's time well spent. Plus the bonus of being outdoors and taking in some wonderful sights!

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    In fact my family have decided to volunteer in the summer some more and have just signed up for the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust survey where you take a transect of 1 - 2km and walk it once a month recording all the type of bees you see along the way. We are going to do our family John Muir award to tie in with all the surveys and see what else we can learn about along the way. We would love to do some volunteering further afield to tie in with our holidays as well, see what there is in other parts of the country.

  • Comment number 20.

    I'm currently studying for 2 diplomas & 2 degrees in science with the Open University & have been helping out at a nature reserve & by planting trees at various events in Oxfordshire over the last few years.
    I'm hoping to do a lot more volunteering work & I'm even going to be a keeper for a day at a local Wildlife Park in September!


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