Scarlett has been volunteering at St Aidan's since 2018, as a Ranger and as a Reserve Assistant, initially through the Young Volunteer scheme.

"I voiced an interest in volunteering with the RSPB at 14 years old in early 2018, the year I commenced my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award and was required to do a regular set of hours contributing my time to our community. As I’d already chosen a path in conservation for my career, the local nature reserve of Fairburn Ings was the obvious choice. But Fairburn Ings, a well-established and popular destination for visitors and volunteers alike, had many Young Volunteers helping out already. The staff there suggested the Aire Valley sister site: nature park RSPB St Aidan’s.

At the time, St Aidan’s didn’t have any Young Volunteers, and was still emerging as a local attraction. Not even my parents had heard of the site, only of the disused open-cast mine on the edge of Allerton Bywater. However, my first introductory walk around the park was in March – meaning staff, volunteers, and avid birders were waiting for St Aidan’s claim to fame to arrive: the rare black-necked grebes. The grebes were only my first experience of realising what a truly special place St Aidan’s is."

Scarlett and her dad, Rangering at St Aidan's in 2018

"I began volunteering on Sunday afternoons, with my parents alternating to accompany me. We were Rangers – tasked with walking the many routes and various environments at St Aidan’s with binoculars, radios and smiles for the steadily increasing number of visitors delighting in the scenery and wildlife. From the windy hillside with stunning views to squawking reedbeds and Astley Lake, the boggy woods of Lowther or gentle stroll about Bowers, there was a lot to explore, a lot to get to know! The most rewarding aspect of the role is learning from the site and the visitors. Though still nowhere near an expert, the knowledge of birds, flowers, optics, bees, floodplain management and lots of little miscellaneous topics I’ve picked up is a staggering amount compared to when I started. Skills in communication and observation I never realised I was using have benefitted massively from these interactions.

After a year away from volunteering during the pandemic, I returned with my younger brother, Heath, in tow. He was introduced through the Young Volunteer Scheme, designed to recruit more young people to volunteer in the Aire Valley. By this time, there were many younger volunteers starting out at St Aidan’s as I did a couple of years before, something that gives me huge hope for my generation. When I turned 18, Heath and I began Rangering by ourselves, and we have often participated in Community Litter Picks and the odd Muck-In Day run by the site. Memorable moments include us finding a coconut in Lowther Woods during a litter pick – a peculiar but entertaining find!"

Scarlett and Heath, and a surprise litter-picked coconut!

"When I took a gap year after leaving school, I wanted to fill it with experience that would support me when studying ecology, conservation, biological and environmental science. Though I wasn’t sure where I would end up, I was certain of what I wanted to do and the extent that volunteering would assist me. I took up an additional role as a Volunteer Warden with the reserve assistant team at St Aidan’s, which involves a lot of hands-on tasks managing the site and helping with processes that directly assist conservation of wildlife and the unique ecosystem there. I can’t put into words the advantages working with the Warden team, as well as continuing as a Ranger, has given me. Preparing the sand martin wall for breeding season; clearing scrubland and willow trees from the reedbeds to improve the habitat; observing techniques to safely bring down fallen trees; fixing fencing, collecting tree guards, and setting up benches. Every week brings new knowledge or teaches a new skill."

For more information on the Young Volunteer scheme, or volunteering in general, please contact our Volunteer Co-ordinator Janine Brown-Jones - janine.brown-jones@rspb.org.uk. 

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