People often say they struggle to see how one individual can make a difference, but every single RSPB volunteer can make a huge difference for nature! We have over 12,000 RSPB volunteers, who all come from different walks of life and who all help us in their own ways, and together, we achieve much more for wildlife than we could alone!


In fact, this blog has been written by one of our newest South East volunteers, Libby Morris! If you are interested in finding out more about volunteering opportunities visit our website

Volunteering to save swifts:


One of those volunteers is John Cuthbert, one of our Swift Survey volunteers, who last year co-ordinated the swift project in Sussex. This project involved establishing a benchmark of 76 swift nest sites across the Brighton area. We identified a number of 'hot spots' among the areas that we surveyed, which was a fantastic result and could not have been achieved without all of our volunteer surveyors’ sterling efforts. In total, our volunteers devoted an incredible 250 hours of their own time to the survey.


John, ‘swift coordinator’ has been integral to this operation and has been the main point of contact to all our wonderful volunteers throughout the project. He has also played a large part in recruiting, working in partnership with other local groups and keeping his finger on the pulse with the Brighton General Hospital, one on Brighton's largest and oldest swift colonies.


Based on the data collected by our volunteers during the 2016 and 2017 surveys we have been able to draw up plans to try to protect and nurture the colonies we now know about. The data has allowed us to focus in on the most popular nesting areas for swifts, so this year we will be able to help with the protection and expansion of colonies – along with 45 of our volunteers. With a project like this it is important to keep high levels of communication as well as proactive engagement with homeowners, residents and neighbours within these swift sites, and our volunteers are an essential part of this.


We are repeating the survey again in 2018 to see how it compares to last year, once again being co-ordinated by John. We could simply not achieve the work we’re doing now without him!


 Volunteering to protect habitats:


Owen Johnson is one of our regular volunteers who just so happened to stumble across what is believed to be the country’s first naturalised Japanese cherry tree – the Prunus ‘Kanzan’. The tree, located in RSPB Fore Wood in Sussex, had been hiding amongst the surrounding alder for thirty years without being spotted. If it hadn’t been for Owen happening upon it during its short blossom then it may not have been spotted at all! Having researched the tree, Owen is pretty certain that this Japanese cherry is the only recorded instance of one growing from a seed in the entire of the UK. These trees don’t usually last that long, so we car ried out some coppicing around it to let in more light and preserve this rarity. As the tree is non-native (and fortunately non-invasive!) it is not considered important British flora, but it is a very unusual specimen.


RSPB Fore Wood is a lovely ancient woodland reserve comprising high forest, mixed native coppice, sweet chestnut coppice, ghyll woodland and wide, flower rich rides. It supports a whole host of threatened wildlife that we are working hard to protect; including lesser spotted woodpecker, a rare dead wood bee (Osmia pilicornis, or the fringe horned mason bee), reptiles, carpets of native bluebells and wood anemones, rare silver-washed fritillary butterflies, and much, much more. The reserve depends heavily on volunteers as this sensitive woodland needs careful management to provide the right structure for various bird species and mammals such as dormice. Clearing trees in some areas ensures that light can get to the forest floor, and flushes of wildflowers (which are important for foraging invertebrates) can naturally emerge. The narrow tracks don’t leave room for vehicles, so our hardy volunteers are needed to help fell and process trees, ensuring that the specialist species that are found there are able to thrive.


South East Volunteer Statistics:


•Across the whole of the UK there are over 12,000 volunteers. In the South East there are currently about 1,900.


•Of these South East volunteers, 34 are over 85 years old and 35 are under 18. Our youngest volunteer is 11, and our oldest is 92.


•There is an almost exact 50:50 split between male and female volunteers.


•Between April 2016 and March 2017 our volunteers worked an amazing total of 177,637 hours; that’s about 23,600 days, or 64 years!


•We have 36 local groups in the South East, 20 of which have been up and running for over 40 years! These groups actively support the work of the RSPB in the local community and involve both RSPB members and the wider public in local conservation.

If you are interested in finding out more about volunteering opportunities visit our website