As part of our nationwide Volunteers’ Week running from 1 to 7 June, today’s blog is brought to you by Davene Everett about her experiences volunteering on Havergate Island.
I started volunteering on Havergate after a conversation with someone in a hide at RSPB Minsmere nature reserve, who suggested I could help out with the guided walks on the island. I quickly discovered the tranquillity and fascination of Suffolk’s only island was a great balance to the size and busyness of Minsmere, so for the best of both worlds, I am a volunteer guide at both reserves.
The social history of Havergate has been fascinating to research and I have enjoyed sharing the anecdotes of life on the island with all the visitors. From farmers swimming cattle across the river, to smugglers in running battles with the “Excise Men”, wartime damage and acts of great heroism to the more recent floods and tidal surges, they all weave a rich tapestry of life on this isolated location.
A wealth of wildlife
There are interesting plants to point out to people: wormwood which is used in absinthe; sea lavender which makes for a lovely photo when a hare sits amongst it; samphire which is eaten as a delicacy with fish.
The wildlife is enchanting. Moths and butterflies are common in the summer. Barn owls nest here. Short-eared owls, kestrels, marsh harriers, sparrowhawks, peregrines and even hen harriers all visit regularly. Spoonbills appear on the scrapes at times, and the numbers of waders, ducks and gulls vary over the seasons making the island different at every visit.
Due to its isolation (you need to catch the boat October Storm to get here), you never know what unusual bird may appear in your binoculars, and enthusing visitors with this sense of discovery is all part of what makes this role so enjoyable.
Many visitors come to the island to see the resident brown hares. They can be very accommodating for patient photographers with fieldcraft, so teaching youngsters keen to get pictures about the way to approach wild animals is really rewarding.
It feels precious every time
I’ve even had the chance to guide river trips around the island and up Butley River, giving a different view of the landscape and the chance to talk about the wider area. The impermanence of the island in a world of rising sea levels and changing coastlines means that every visit feels precious and I try to get this message across to everyone who visits. If just one visitor leaves with the same enthusiasm and enjoyment that I get from my time on the island, my day as a volunteer has been worthwhile.
(All images by Davene or Steve Everett)
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