Our volunteers help in many ways to save nature from monitoring birds on farmland to helping the visitors to our reserves discover the wonders of wildlife, the opportunities are as diverse as our volunteers themselves. We caught up with some of our amazing volunteers to get the low down on what they do, and why they love doing it …
Volunteers’ Week takes place between 1 – 7 June each year, and whilst the coronavirus pandemic has paused many of our volunteering activities, we would still like to use this opportunity to give a big shout out to thank all our amazing volunteers who support our work throughout the year.

Jonny Andrews 

This would have been my third-year volunteering with the RSPB. I survey farmland on the east coast of County Down for the six priority farmland species; yellowhammers, linnets, reed buntings, tree sparrows, skylarks and lapwings.

The farmland survey is a great project to be involved in. To be honest it’s more of a privilege than anything else to have access to some of the most beautiful farmland in the country. Most mornings start with a beautiful sunrise and the wildlife never disappoints. The fact that the information collected has a such positive impact on the future of many bird, mammal and insect species is a bonus and gives me a real feeling of pride to be involved.

One of the main things I was worried about in my first year’s survey was not getting it right, but after the first few visits, I realised that the time I spent worrying was time wasted. There’s plenty of support and a great group of volunteers to help and advise. If you would like to get involved but that little bit of nervousness is holding you back, don’t let it. You are more than capable.

Muriel Gillespie 

I have been volunteering for almost six years. I welcome visitors to the reserve, provide them with binoculars and help them discover the birds that are with us that day. I also explain the history of the reserve and the importance of the species we are trying to protect.

Volunteering is a great way to meet other people who share your passions and to make new friends. I believe everything on our planet has its place in the eco system. I feel it is important to help, in whatever way I can, to ensure we don't keep losing species.

If I was speaking to someone who was interested in volunteering, I’d tell them that you are never too old to learn new things! You could surprise yourself and end up doing things you never thought you could! For me that was helping to survey farms at 5am on a summer morning looking for birds nesting and listening to their birdsong. I Love it!!

Eddie Manthorpe 

I started as a pin badge box minder in November 2013 and have been volunteering ever since. The RSPB have lots of different badges of birds, animals and plants and their sales raise vital funds for nature. At the sites I manage, I collect the donations and restock the boxes. Each year, I give out certificates to the shops showing how much they have raised.

I feel a degree of satisfaction that in a small way I am helping to protect nature. In today’s world nature is under ever increasing pressure, particularly from habitat loss. What I do, can help the RSPB to counteract some of this damage by raising vital funds for conservation projects.

If you are thinking of volunteering, go ahead, give it a go. You will probably enjoy it. However, if you find that what you are doing doesn’t suit you, speak with your supervisor. There are always other roles that might suit you better. If in the end, you find that it’s just not for you, walk away. At least you gave it a go.

James McDowell

I have been volunteering for four years, this would have been my fifth year. I really enjoy talking with visitors of all ages and pointing out the different birds. It’s always a good idea to keep your eyes peeled as something special or unusual may happen like a razorbill laying its huge egg or dolphins turning up, you just never know what’s going to happen next. I feel a real sense of pride and privilege to be a part of the conservation programme on Rathlin Island and to be able to make a difference.

The main thing for a volunteer is to have enthusiasm and a love of nature will certainly help.  If I as a volunteer can enthuse our visitors in the seabird spectacle, they in turn will be more likely to support the RSPB in the work they are doing to save nature. There are some species on Rathlin that you won’t find in other parts of Northern Ireland like golden hares, great skuas and corncrakes and if you venture out on a clear night the spectacle of the night sky is something to behold. I dare you to come and see for yourself.

Gary Thompson 

I've been volunteering for more than a year now. I work as part of a team, to improve and maintain the habitat at Belfast’s Window on Wildlife. Having retired, I enjoy being part of a dedicated team of all age groups, who have a positive attitude to the task at hand. I also enjoy being in close contact with the natural world and having that awareness of the changing seasons.

Volunteering for me is enjoyable, interesting, educational and valuable and I would highly recommend it to anyone with some spare time. Seeing the benefits, we can bring to the environment gives me a great sense of purpose and well-being.

Anna Leschinski 

I was a residential volunteer at Portmore Lough for six months. As a residential volunteer I had the opportunity to work on the reserve full-time, which was a very rewarding experience. It feels amazing to assist with the conservation efforts on the reserve and to help wildlife. I enjoy hands-on work, so completing tasks on the reserve, being surrounded by nature, and connecting with visitors as well as watching wildlife were all wonderful experiences that brought me absolute joy.

If you have the opportunity to volunteer, do not hesitate. Take a chance and you will get the best experiences, connect with wonderful people - and you never know what it might lead to. In these uncertain times everyone needs something to hold on to, and for me that is nature. Continuing to support conservation is very important to me.

Kate McAllister 

I always tell people I volunteer for the RSPB in three different ways. I’m secretary of RSPB Antrim local group, an assistant leader RSPB Antrim Wildlife Explorers and a visitor engagement volunteer at RSPB Portmore Lough reserve. I’ve been volunteering for around 20 years.

What I enjoy best is the 'talking to people' part of my roles, explaining about nature in all its amazing details. It is the amazement I want to pass on. I feel I am helping nature have more supporters in the future as every conversation I have with someone can make a difference to how they see the natural world now and how they stand up for it in years to come.

Volunteering takes you out of yourself. It makes you think about other people - what fascinating information would they like to hear? - what would amaze them? - what wonderful sight would they like to see through this scope? Giving people a good experience of nature, sending them home happier at a local group meeting or a Wildlife Explorer field trip or after a visit to Portmore Lough, that’s what makes me smile inside.

If you have been inspired by any of our volunteer stories and would like to find out more about how you can get involved in volunteering with RSPB NI in the future, please email colin.graham@rspb.org.uk.