As it is National Volunteers’ Week, here is a special interview with Ouse Fen and Fen Drayton Lakes volunteer Rick Harrison. They are my questions and his answers. I hope you enjoy reading this!

What inspired you to start volunteering with the RSPB?

Although having been interested in wildlife all my life, and a member of the RSPB for many years, I was not aware of the local volunteer work parties. My wife died, June 2008, leaving me on my own. A kind neighbour persuaded me to go with him to an event at Ouse Fen, in, I think, July 2008. I was immediately taken with the idea of becoming involved with the development of a brand new wildlife reserve.

I contacted Chris Hudson, the then Project Manager of Ouse Fen (who is now Senior Sites Manager for the RSPB Ouse Valley reserves), completed the necessary paperwork, and began, in earnest in September. This was quickly followed by volunteering at Fen Drayton Lakes. Without being too dramatic, the opportunity came at a low point of my life and was all round beneficial, physically and mentally. Thank you RSPB.

How long have you been volunteering?

I am in my 10th year of volunteering at Ouse Fen and Fen Drayton Lakes. In addition to the regular Wednesday and Saturday work parties I have been involved in surveying waders and butterflies at Fen Drayton Lakes for the past three seasons.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

There was the physical effort, sometimes quite demanding (pulling willow from the reedbeds, planting reed seedlings in deep, smelly, mud, cutting, dragging and burning willow or replacing or repairing fences and gates).

It's also an opportunity to learn from others, staff and volunteers, the camaraderie, the team work and humour: I always maintain that we all have a healthy disrespect for each other! I developed an interest in hedge laying, to the extent that I, and another volunteer did a weekend course run by the local Wildlife Trust. We went on to take third prize in the 2016 North Cotswold Hedge Laying Competition!

Here are a couple of pictures of Rick hedge laying:

Image credits: Hannah Bernie

I was also fortunate to attend a weekend’s boat handling course, at Grafham Water, funded by the RSPB, thus allowing a bit more flexibility in my volunteering role. Most importantly, one can see the results of ones efforts whether it be new species arriving, more visitors and the involvement of other organisations, e.g. schools.  A small group of us now meet regularly for trips to differing wildlife venues.

What is the best wildlife spectacle that you have seen whilst you have been volunteering?

It is impossible to pick one wildlife spectacle. I've seen so many different things whilst I have been volunteering, many of which I would never have otherwise seen. I have seen more grass snakes and common lizards in the last 10 years than in the previous 60! Bird wise: spoonbills, glossy ibis, cranes, bitterns, red footed falcon, little stint and black terns and many others.

What is the funniest thing that has happened whilst you have been volunteering?

With there being so many lakes around the reserves most amusing incidents include someone's misfortune, mine included, over balancing into the water or smelly mud. No one was ever hurt!

What is the strangest thing that has happened whilst you have been volunteering?

Strange? Not sure fits the bill but another incident was with a young bull who took exception when he, inadvertently, became separated from his harem! We had to call on the Warden and the grazier, with their vehicles, for assistance, the bull wouldn't be moved and proceeded to butt the trucks. In the end, it was easier to move the cows back to the bull! It only became amusing after the event, and, again, no one was hurt. It happened to be Hannah's first volunteer work party after being promoted to Warden!

Do you or have you ever volunteered with another organisation?

Over the years I have volunteered with a number of differing organisations from school PTA's to an overseas property maintenance committee. I was the Chair, of the latter for over 20 years.

What is your greatest achievement whilst you have been volunteering?

Greatest achievement; being able to make a positive and visible contribution to the conservation of wildlife in my local area. Personally, it has been the expansion of my own knowledge and the making of new, and varying, friends and volunteering team members.

Are there any jobs that you enjoy less than others whilst you have been volunteering?

I particularly enjoy the more physically demanding tasks; I maintain that if I go home tired, sweaty and muddy, it's been a good session!

Would you recommend RSPB volunteering to others?

I would highly recommend volunteering with RSPB.

Just before I leave you, here is a link to a short video which includes more interviews with Ouse Fen volunteers.

We hope you have enjoyed this blog post.

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