I’ve not written a huge number of blogs over the years – Chris and the team do the vast majority, but of all the blogs I’ve ever written, this is by far the hardest.

Those of you who have visited the Osprey Centre in the last few weeks will have seen that this season we have had to say goodbye to one of our trusted and valued friends and volunteers – Rob Ballinger, who has passed away after a short illness.

Rob was one of our local volunteers and had been coming to share his passion for wildlife and knowledge of the Caledonian forest and ospreys, with visitors to the Osprey Centre for five years. He would turn up on Mondays, walking into the centre in his jeans and Converse All-Stars with a big smile on his face and a positive, open, friendly nature in his heart. He was one of life’s givers, and was always keen to help – offering his volunteering services to the wider reserve as well, by helping with survey work. A keen photographer, Rob also spent time capturing wildlife on camera and with an almost schoolboy-like enthusiasm, would delight in sharing his latest shots with his friends.

He also spent six weeks last year working as a Visitor Experience Assistant at our Caper-watch event at the Osprey Centre. A job not for the faint-hearted, Rob had to be at work at 5.00am and then had to spend the next three hours, binoculars at the ready, searching the bog woodland from the Osprey Centre viewing flaps, for lekking capercaillie to show our visitors. Unfortunately for Rob, 2017 marked the last ever Caper-Watch, as the lek had gradually been dwindling and had moved out of sight of the centre, but he still approached each shift with the same up-beat, positive attitude and used the time to inspire our visitors about the forest and the wildlife which depends on it.

As well as volunteering for us at the Osprey Centre, Rob had started his volunteering with the RSPB in Scotland at our Loch of Strathbeg reserve, where he began inspiring visitors in 2006. He also spent ten years as a weekend warden at Sands of Forvie National Nature Reserve, for Scottish Natural Heritage, helping to inform and engage visitors about the nesting terns there. He loved Sands of Forvie and the terns, and I have no doubt that he left a lasting legacy there, as he has done here at Loch Garten and Abernethy.

We will remember many things about Rob, but most of all we will remember him as one of the team, a man with a big, caring heart, a great (and cheeky!) sense of humour, and a genuine passion for all wildlife (and Derby County FC!)

On behalf of the team here at Loch Garten, the wider reserve team at Abernethy and the thousands of visitors who have been lucky enough to cross paths with you over the years, I want to say thank you, Rob. It was a pleasure and an honour to have you as part of the team and we will miss you x