Having just completed two amazing weeks volunteering at the RSPB Mull of Galloway reserve, I am suffering from withdrawal symptoms from the diversity of wildlife, wonderful land- and sky-scapes and sea air! It is a very special place - small but perfectly formed, made even better by the fine weather while we were there. I volunteered with a friend, and the wardens, Rob and Dave, made us feel very welcome and Rob gave us a very thorough induction and introduction to the reserve. I started to learn about the wildlife from the word go and was still learning when we left two weeks later. Rob and Dave were great at answering my constant stream of questions as there was always something new to see and learn about.

The seabirds are probably the stars of the reserve, including the gannet colony on Big Scare island, and the live feed in the visitor centre, from the cameras on the cliffs, allows the visitors to get close up and personal with the different birds there. By listening to Rob and Dave talking them through what they were seeing I learnt so much about each species and their behaviour and life cycles, which I was then able to share with visitors with increasing confidence both in the visitor centre and when out and about on the reserve. Nearly everyone who came wanted to see a puffin, and although they are not known to breed on the reserve there were usually some to be seen on the water below the fog horn, which became our favourite place to hang out before and after work, not only to watch the seabirds but also to look out for passing seals. However the heathland habitat of the reserve also held a wealth of wildlife - birds, insects and flowers. Rob put out a moth trap on our first evening and we helped him to sort the captives out the next morning for him to identify - a first for me, and so interesting to see such a variety of moths close up, with the opportunity to appreciate their beautiful markings and colours. Lots of butterflies were always in evidence especially Small Blues, Heath Browns, and Small Tortoiseshells (they are the ones I could identify fairly readily!).  The speciality of the Mull of Galloway is the Rose Chafer Beetle, which features on the reserve's pin badge and which drew ""oohs" and "aahs" from the visitors when we found them a real one to look at, because of it's stunning iridescent colours. Around the reserve linnets, meadow and rock pipits, stonechats and wheatears were busy feeding young, roe deer could be spotted grazing when it was quiet with the occasional glimpse of a fawn, and hares were at home in the lighthouse walled garden munching on Rob's vegetables. The wild flowers were stunning, too many to list, and a colourful carpet all around.

So what did I do as a volunteer?  The hours are 10a.m. to 5p.m. with a lunch break when one could walk to the nearby Gallie Craig cafe or just sit and watch life on the reserve while eating a packed lunch. The main role was to talk to visitors in and around the visitor centre and out on the trails, and to answer their questions as best I could, and if I couldn't, to try to find the answer for them from the warden on duty or from one of the many field guides available in the centre. Other duties included re-painting signs around the reserve, surveying insects for a national study, cutting down vegetation along the paths and invasive stinging nettles, litter picking (of which there was very little) and puffin-watching to try to establish if there might be some breeding among rocks on the cliffs. Whenever I was out on the reserve doing any of these jobs they took much longer than I expected because visitors would come up and chat to me (we wore RSPB polo shirts and fleeces), but that was a lovely diversion! Each week one of the volunteers had the opportunity to accompany the guided walk which Rob led around the reserve and adjoining cliff path, both another learning experience as Rob knows the reserve like the back of his hand, and time to talk to the other participants. This was the time when the other volunteer was on their own in the visitor centre, but Rob briefed us well first.

Where did I stay and what was there to do? The RSPB provides accommodation in a comfortable cottage in Drummore, the nearest village about five miles North of the reserve. There is no TV but phone reception was ok. In the village there is a shop where we needed to get any supplies in the morning as it was closed when we got back, a cafe and several hostelries. The beach is largely sandy and we swam there a couple of times, and every evening we walked around the harbour and out along the shore, where we watched shellducks with eight ducklings, redshanks, a curlew, oystercatchers with chicks and seals. We had the middle weekend off and spent one day visiting Logan Botanic Gardens, Port Logan and Portpatrick, and the other on a circular walk out along a lovely quiet country lane and back along the beach - more seals, terns and gulls - and hardly a soul in sight. Rob and Dave also made sure we had time to go up the lighthouse and round the exhibition for which, as volunteers, we were not charged, and that too was a not-to-be-missed experience.

So for me this was a residential volunteering experience in a stunning location with great people that was informative, memorable and very enjoyable. Much more holiday than work, I would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in wildlife - and you don't need any real expertise because you will learn that on the "job".

Ruth - Residential volunteer

If you would like to find out more about residential volunteering with the RSPB click on the following link - https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering-fundraising/volunteer/residential-volunteering/ 

All photos by Ruth Coker

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