Ever wondered what it is like to volunteer on an rspb reserve? It is a fantastic way to meet new people, discover wildlife and be more active as Beth, one of our work party volunteers can describe:

It's a cold and blustery morning for May with a forecast of heavy showers. But we Coombes Valley Volunteers set off cheerily along with resident interns Cara and Ryan seemingly to mend a kissing gate but actually keeping an eye out for emerging species of fauna and flora.

Bluebells are out along the pushchair friendly path and tiny, delicate almost transparent leaves are unfurling on the oak trees. Purple Tufted Vetch and darker Common Bugle are just coming out too. We stop to spot the blackcaps as we hear them call and are unsure if one slightly different, longer, scratchy call could be a garden warbler.  Chiffchaffs are also calling persistently interspersed with the odd willow warbler. Plump clumps of Marsh Marigolds gleam gold in the damp grass of a meadow and we stoop to confirm that some delicate white flowers are definitely field mouse- ear chickweed.

Coombes Valley in morning light, illuminating the carpet of bluebells - Ryan Woodcock

So progress is slow, but it's all quite delightful!

When we have wound downhill to the kissing gate we find we have need of a hammer!

So Ryan turns back to fetch one and whilst he has gone, the rest of the group takes up his suggestion. We side track into a nearby meadow ( compartment 10 ) which was cleared of major undergrowth last year to allow a greater variety of flowers to grow.

We are looking for Adder's Tongue which was spotted here last year. We fan out and zig- zag across the grassy slope. The native Adder's Tongue (Ophioglossum Vulgatum) likes damp grassland, so it should be happy here. Red Campion is growing well but not yet in flower. Tiny curls of ferns, only a few inches high, hide amongst the blades of grass. Patches of Bluebells nod drops of rain onto the ground. One mossy tree stump is topped by a jelly- like slime mould, inadvertently discovered as I grasp the stump for support on the uneven slope (urgh!).

Adder's tongue

Ian discovers what he thinks at first is a curled, mottled, greyish leaf until it moves and we realise we have disturbed a slow worm as its tail disappears down its hole in the ground. I find the discarded sections of a bird's egg, bantam hen sized, off- white with grey markings which turns out to be most likely a Magpie's.

Slow worm - Katy Fielding

But the Adder's Tongue is elusive.

At this time of year we are hunting for a single light green oval-shaped leaf from which emerges a probing tongue, but it will be small, only 5 cm or so, and too easily hidden amongst other vegetation.

So we are defeated, apart from mending the kissing gate. Maybe we can look again next week, but even without the Adder's Tongue Coombes is a good place to be on a wet Spring morning.

Beth

Work party volunteer

Have you ever considered volunteering for the rspb? Or more specifically: at Coombes Valley? We are currently looking for friendly people to greet and chat with guests at our visitor centre. If you love talking to people and inspiring them about the natural world then we’d love to hear from you!

For more information on becoming a visitor centre volunteer: http://bit.ly/1Jki6Sk

Or call or email Katy Fielding for a chat about the position on 01538 384017 or katy.fielding@rspb.org.uk

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