Hi. I’m Sonya, the newest recruit to the team here at Loch Garten.  

I have been here for just over a week so far and am absolutely blown away by the beauty of the Abernethy forest, the lochs, the rivers, the mountains the moors, the wildlife.... what a special place! I am really enjoying learning about the incredible work that is being done here by the RSPB to restore this landscape to what it once was and feel very honoured to be part of the team on such a huge, ambitious and important project. As I learn more and more about the species of flora and fauna that make up the landscape and become able to recognise the areas where balance has already been restored, it fills me with inspiration and hope for the future.  

I am loving the wildlife here in the Highlands. Siskins, restarts, crested tits, crossbills, red squirrels, bank voles, pine martens, the elusive capercaillie, the rare dragonflies.... all new to me and I have so much to see and learn about. Although there are no breeding ospreys on the nest this year, we have had several visitors to the nest this week and I have also been lucky enough to see one flying over the river, just behind the house where I am staying! They are incredible birds, unique and fascinating in so many ways and it’s a joy to see them living and breeding so successfully here in the UK.  

I grew up on the Northeast coast of Ireland but moved to England 18 years ago. For many years I have desperately missed the wild and rugged scenery of home and so, despite having not been to Scotland before, I immediately felt at home here in the wonderful Highlands.  

As a kid, I was enchanted by nature from a very young age. My childhood is filled with memories of capturing ladybirds to count their spots, rescuing frogs from the road, camping holidays on the Causeway coast, clambering around in rivers and waterfalls and volunteering at my local stables and veterinary hospital. I’ve wanted to care for animals for as long as I can remember and in 2003 I moved to England to attend Veterinary College. I qualified as a Veterinary Nurse a few years later and since then, I have worked with animals in many capacities.  

As an avid gardener, I have become very aware over the years that there are not so many ladybirds around anymore, that I used to see hedgehogs everywhere and now I see none, that our reliable growing seasons are becoming more and more unreliable. We all have a part to play in seeking solutions to the huge challenges our beautiful planet is facing and so, around 5 years ago, I started to take steps away from the veterinary industry to follow my passion for wildlife, conservation, regenerative agriculture and permaculture.  

During the first Covid lockdown, I completed a permaculture design certificate and once I was able to do so, I was raring to get out there and put my new knowledge and skills into practice! I completed 9 weeks of volunteering, 4 weeks in Cornwall and 5 weeks in Cheshire, creating wildflower meadows, biochar, IMO’s, organic produce, planting trees and learning all about different methods of composting.  

More recently I have been volunteering with the amazing Knepp Rewilding project in Sussex, monitoring the behaviour of white storks, who are having their second successful breeding season on the estate. Prior to coming to Loch Garten, I had just begun training to do ecological surveys for protected species, mainly bats and crested newts. This is something I would love to gain more experience with, in the future.  

I have a slight obsession with identifying wildflowers, and living in a new area has given me a whole new world of species to discover! So, if you see me around on the reserve, I’m likely to be crouched down taking 100 photos of the same wildflower from many different angles. Do come and say hello – I’m always glad to meet a friendly new face   

I’m very much looking forward to becoming part of the community whilst I am here in Scotland. I’ve already found the local greengrocers, local crafts shop, refill store and (very important) pub with excellent chips!