For the fourth installment of our volunteer insights, I spoke to Cliff and Kaye who, along with Ian, lead our Wildwatch sessions, to find out more about their volunteering experience.
What is your role at St Nicks and what does that involve?
Kaye: Currently three of them: serving as a trustee; a founder member of the Wildwatch group; picker-up of general admin and wildlife monitoring odd jobs.
Cliff: Member of weekly Wednesday Wildwatch team – mainly monitoring insects and other invertebrates. This includes preparing blogs, web spotlights on species/species groups, and keeping records of sightings.
Why do you volunteer?
Kaye: It was always part of my retirement plan – I wanted to build a sort of portfolio of constructive things to do, using old skills and learning a few new ones.
Cliff: I came to help at a Bioblitz in May 2013 and stayed ever since, having noticed a need for someone to focus on the insect life of the reserve.
Do you enjoy volunteering at St Nicks and why?
Cliff: Absolutely! Every week is different, often with new people to meet – including sharing with volunteers a fuller understanding of the insect life of St Nicks and how it relates to the varied habitats of the reserve.
Kaye: There’d be no real reason to do it if I didn’t, but by now I’ve got sucked in to the point where I’m happy to do things I don’t particularly enjoy because the organisation needs them done. Does anybody really enjoy proof-reading funding bids? I like the ethos and the atmosphere, feeling useful, being able to do a lot of things in my own time to fit round other commitments. I love what birders call patch-watching: going over the same territory week in, week out, watching the seasons change. I like leading walks round the reserve, because I love showing the place off and it gives me an excuse for talking too much. A real plus is the range of contacts. So many groups pigeon-hole people by age and background. St Nicks lets me work alongside 15-year olds on work placements, MSc and PhD students, people with learning difficulties, and over the last eight years at least five different races and ten nationalities. Brilliant!
Have you learnt anything through volunteering?
Cliff: Again, absolutely! My own knowledge of insect types, biology, classification, distribution, seasonality etc has grown enormously. My ability to share this knowledge with others and enthuse visitors and volunteers has also increased considerably.
Kaye: How to put up a gazebo, how a composting toilet works, how to do a small mammal survey, the difference between acrocarpus and pleurocarpus moss, the amazing life cycle of oak gall wasps, how charity project funding works…. Then revising and applying a whole lot of stuff I used to know but had to put on hold because there wasn’t time for it while I had a full-time career. I almost certainly wouldn’t have returned to my long-abandoned cello if I hadn’t got to know David Hammond in the recycling team who put me in touch with an inspiring teacher. And of course anybody in my age group is supposed to like best of all knowing it already and being proved right so I enjoy being reminded week in week out that whatever the press might want us to believe, there are still large numbers of intelligent, articulate, highly principled young people who prefer to be outdoors, are totally connected to nature, love books, know how to cook, have a passion for the environment and the values to make a career of it, and with a bit of luck might manage to save the human race as well as the planet. And that the so-called generation gap seals up to leave not even a crack when seventy-something and seventeen are watching a Kingfisher together or finding a Parent Bug brooding its eggs.
What has been a highlight of volunteering here?
Cliff: Meeting and learning from many new volunteers and participants, and sharing their enthusiasm.
Also, discovering what a huge range of wildlife (especially insects and other invertebrates) can be found on the reserve, and writing about it in the blogs.
Kaye: Maybe the day I found a Water Rail and took the worst possible photograph that could still prove the ID? Watching Jessica from Minnesota trying to get a closer look at a pheasant ? Watching young members of staff growing into their job? Too many to pick from.
How would you describe St Nicks to someone who has not been here before?
Cliff: An amazing place! Friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable staff and volunteers at the Centre, and out on the reserve a surprising variety of habitats and wildlife diversity.
Kaye: A small, wild haven packed with more species of birds, plants and invertebrate than most people could possibly imagine; the nicest, weirdest collection of volunteers you could hope to meet; an amazing staff who keep the place going at not inconsiderable career costs, because they love it; a small charity punching well above its weight to promote sustainable living and re-connection with nature.
If you would like to get involved with the Wildwatch team and find out more about our native wildlife, email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can join.