Family volunteering at RSPB Lochwinnoch is a great way to get outdoors, do something positive for nature and enjoy some quality time with your loved ones. Volunteers get stuck into a fantastic variety of tasks and learn about conservation methods along the way, gaining an insight into what happens ‘behind the scenes’ at a nature reserve.

“I like helping nature! It’s good exercise and you get to see loads of minibeasts and birds.” 
Andrew, age 8
Recent jobs have included planting willow for coppicing, which in the future will yield a lovely harvest of useful sticks, ready for the coppicing process to begin again – an example of woodland management that has been practised for centuries.

The regenerative properties of willow have again been demonstrated with a tunnel constructed from willow poles – these have since taken root and sprouted new stems and leaves, forming a gorgeous living shelter for our visitors to explore.

There are, however, some plants that we don’t want to grow on the reserve, including Himalayan balsam and Spanish bluebells. These invasive species are removed by hand and are good examples of species that need careful identification before they’re pulled up – a great skill for children to learn at an early age, setting them up for a life of looking closely and taking note of detail. The Himalayan balsam grows vigorously and crowds out many plants, and its sweet nectar also proves to be more tempting for bees and pollinators than that of our native plants – so it has to go! The Spanish bluebells also are problematic, as they breed with our native bluebells to produce a fertile hybrid, ultimately resulting in the loss of our delicate, sweet-smelling native bluebell – so the Spanish invader has to be eradicated too.

But it’s not just plants we’re concerned with – we’ve seen toads many times over the last few summers and have constructed a 5-star hibernaculum, or winter home for frogs and toads, dug down in the ground, away from the cold and frost. This will ensure there is a safe place for these fascinating amphibians to overwinter, until we see them again next spring!

We’ve also made some floating nesting platforms for great-crested grebes, which will hopefully facilitate some successful breeding next year – we had a record count of 31 last winter (our highest for 40 years) so fingers crossed that these platforms will help to increase the numbers even further in the future.

One bird that we’d love to see breeding on the reserve is the lapwing. Last year a pair nested, but there were no eggs or chicks. So to help them and other waders, we cleared stones from the meadows so the farmer could cut the grass with his tractor without damaging his mower, then we raked up the mowed grass. Now we have short grass with clumps of reeds, enabling the lapwings to hide their nest but still have the ability to keep an eye out for foxes and crows. The good news is that a pair of lapwing did manage to incubate some eggs this year, with four chicks spotted in June. Unfortunately, the chicks have not been seen recently, leading us to conclude they have been predated, but if we keep managing the reserve for the benefit of the lapwings, we will have more success in the coming years.

It’s easy to regard the reserve as one large, natural, self-sustaining system, but by working on small projects you start to see how the reserve is managed, from day-to-day, to season-by-season.

There’s always something to keep you occupied on the reserve, with a myriad of jobs to do throughout the year, so if you’d like to do something practical for conservation and make some amazing memories with your children, drop us a line and come along to our next session!

Next session: Saturday 29 July 2017.
August session: Saturday 26 August 2017.

Many thanks to Family Volunteer leader, Michael Given, for his help in the preparation of this blog.