Minsmere volunteers Brian and Diane Sivyer have always enjoyed engaging families & children with nature. Now a key part of our Welcome Team, they reflect on some of their favourite tasks over the years...

40 Years with the RSPB

Our volunteer journey with the RSPB started back in 1976 with the formation of the Lowestoft Members Group when we assisted in the running of the Group. Why do we did we do it? Well, we wanted to support the work that the RSPB does with its wide range of conservation work – especially for birds.

So, what were the sort of tasks that needed ‘doing’? Well, promoting the RSPB, fundraising, running the RSPB gift catalogue and helping out with the information stand on the beach at Minsmere. We also had a stand at one of the first Henham Steam Rallies!

Little Terns in Norfolk by Ben Andrew

Smooth sailing

We organised sea trips on the sailing drifter ‘Excelsior’ from Lowestoft for birdwatchers, as well as trips on a Cornish fishing smack from Lowestoft Harbour for local school children. This provided the kids with an idea of the history of the fishing industry, wildlife at sea as well as pollution in the seas. How topical is that! We funded these free school trips by obtaining a Community Lottery grant. Apart from the pollution angle we remember how few children knew anything about dolphins and porpoises!

As Diane and I both worked in education it was perhaps natural that we migrated towards working with children. This was mainly thanks to Geoff Walsh, Minsmere Manager who got us involved firstly helping with children’s activities and then with Ian Barthorpe organising the annual 2-day family event at Minsmere. For those of you who can still remember, they were held on the first Thursday and Friday in August. There was a tremendous amount of work involved, and visitors always turned up early despite the advertised time!

Minibeast hunting by Nick Cunard

Not just for kids

In 2003 we involved ourselves with the event, ‘Become a Wildlife Detective’. It celebrated 60 years of youth membership of the RSPB. There were activities based around ‘Trails, Tracks and Signs’, birdsong, minibeasts, flowers and pollination, even bird ringing. It was interesting to see how many adults joined with the activities themselves. In fact, over the years we found this was an excellent way of getting families involved, with adults sharing the same experience with nature as the children.

We also learnt very quickly what a wide range of skills other volunteers had in order to make these events – for up to 200 children! – the success that they were. Many dedicated parents even booked their holidays in the area to coincide with it. 

Our involvement with the RSPB’s Farming Alliance was different again. The RSPB offered farmers a free bird survey of their farm to assist them with grant applications. These surveys proved an excellent opportunity to visit areas that would be otherwise off limits. We visited some interesting locations and met with some lovely farmers and farm managers over the years that we did these surveys.

Big School Bird Watch by Phil Barnes

Wild schools

There was also ten years of the Big School Bird Watch. This meant going into schools, taking a class of children and involving them in bird recognition and participating in a school bird watch. The children tended to be between 6 and 11yrs and this age range certainly proved the most receptive and very enthusiastic! The Schools Outreach project later took its place. This was more specific, asking the children to look at their school grounds and consider them as wildlife habitats. Our job was to encourage them to find ways to make their school more wildlife friendly. It was rewarding to see how all the children wanted to participate and learn. Made the effort worth it!

We have enjoyed all the rolls we’ve taken on in volunteering with the RSPB. We have met and worked alongside some lovely people; staff, volunteers and members of the public. Hopefully, we’ll remain fit enough to continue for a while longer. There’s still so much to be done!

Well, that’s about it – oh wait – the pin badge boxes need filling up!

Brian and Diane

If you're interested in becoming part of our volunteering team - visit our opportunities page: https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering-fundraising/volunteer/