Having spent one month at Northward Hill as a residential volunteer, what I thought would be awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping became my everyday norm: birds of prey hunting on the reserve; owls sitting on the washing line; and rabbits playing jovially in the garden every evening.

Knowing little or nothing isn’t a worry as I was taught and most importantly, shown, everything there was to know. From the broad idea of how the reserve is run during the summer season to the specific experience of identifying rare shrill carder bees as they enjoyed the Russian comfrey flowers planted months before.

Teamwork and heavy amounts of dedication to conservation are clear to be seen at the volunteer work parties twice a week. Meeting such a range of people with different skills and interests, hearing stories and seeing the difference within a month that path clearance and other manual labour tasks can do, personally encourages me to continue to pursue a career within conservation. Green woodpeckers, Picus viridis, calling in the woodlands became the background noise of the tea breaks - which were welcomed with opened arms!

From identification to monitoring, Northward Hill does it all. Butterfly surveys, moth trapping, breeding productivity, egret surveys and breeding bird surveys are some of the wildlife assessments that occur during the summer months. Meeting volunteers who drop in daily to passionately contribute to ongoing studies on the flora and fauna found on the reserve was highly educational and inspirational to see. All the surveys were thoroughly enjoyable, even the 4 am wake up call to listen to the birds calling and singing for the breeding bird survey. Moth trapping was an undertaking that was new to me. Armed with a full Robinsons trap set up from the night before and multiple moth and micro-moth books, identification was underway. Several hours and many experienced eyes monitoring, about 40 different species of macro and micro-moths were noted. I was surprised to see such an extensive range of moths, from the large and colourful privet hawk-moth, Sphinx ligustri, to the small and dainty cream-bordered green pea, Earias clorana, and the heavily camouflaged lappet, Gastropacha quercifolia.

Some of my favourite things I have learnt and seen include sifting through trail cameras to see some cattle closeups as they get inquisitive with the equipment, counting precariously constructed and perched egret nests in the egretry, seeing an adult cattle egret flapping high up in the treetops, having a purple hairstreak butterfly, Favonius quercus,  rest on my hand in the meadow, having a ruddy darter dragonfly, Sympetrum sanguineum,  settle on my hand during a butterfly survey walk, hearing three different owls (tawny, barn and little owl) screeching simultaneously at night time and discovering that calling blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla, sound like castanet clicks.

 Purple hairstreak butterfly. Marie Ingledew, photography credits.

 Ruddy darter dragonfly. Marie Ingledew, photography credits.

I recommend to anyone of any age to visit, help out at the volunteer work party on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or come and intern on a placement. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Northward Hill reserve and hope to visit again soon. Thank you to Ruby, Will, James, Alice and the numerous volunteers who helped, educated and inspired me on my stay. Also, thank you to Dave for letting me share his blog!

In the words of Cash "always be hungry for success".

Guest blogger: Marie Ingledew

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