Five years ago, we were granted funding by the National Lottery Heritage Fund (previously known as the Heritage Lottery Fund) and other trusts in order to revive our nature reserve and breathe new life into RSPB Sandwell Valley. This funding has enabled us to do a huge amount for the reserve in the last few years from giving us the wonderful new visitor centre to connecting people and nature through community events.

Earlier this year we were delighted to be joined by Emma Marsh (Director of RSPB England), funders, trust committee members, and previous and current RSPB Sandwell Volunteers for a day celebrating our achievements over the last half decade, including exploring the reserve and sharing personal stories and experiences.

The air was crisp and cool on the last day of July as the group made their way down to the Hide on a walk led by volunteers Colin and Hannah. The islands looked amazingly green and lush after all the rain we’ve had during the last few weeks and with binoculars in hand we soon spotted little egret, sandpiper, swallows and tufted ducks – the latter are looking after three lovely little chicks at present. At the Bee Bank just outside the Hide volunteer Aaron gave a brief talk on all the wonderful varieties of bees that can be found on the reserve. Currently there are some leaf-cutter bees living in one of the insect houses and if you take a close look at the leaves on the surrounding trees you might see some jagged holes and tears from where they’ve been collecting nesting materials.

On the walk back to the reserve one of the party spotted some awesome fungi and identified hairy curtain crust and jelly ear! Lastly, we visited the minibeast meadow and had a quick look under the bug flaps for any damp-loving creatures. A few meadow brown butterflies were seen dancing amongst the wildflowers too.

Upon returning to the visitor centre (and a quick cuppa and cake, of course) we sat down for a presentation. The sky had brightened by then and we had some lovely clear views overlooking the lake. The chicory was out in full bloom and the familiar green of the ring-necked parakeets peeked out from the trees. We also spotted a woodpecker on one of the feeders. It was wonderful to hear so many stories on how the reserve has progressed, favourite memories and the joy our team has found during their time here. Many thanks to Emma, Andy, Nadia and Lucy (previous Community and Volunteer Development Officers), and Jenny and Aaron (previous Connecting People and Nature Interns) for sharing their experiences.

After years of hard work RSPB Sandwell has become a fully-fledged member of the local community. We’ve engaged with thousands of people each year and helped them connect to nature through family-friendly activities, youth groups, community days, school visits and much more. In fact, our visitor numbers are up by 25% from last year and primary school visits have increased by 30% which is absolutely fantastic!

Without the funding from NLHF and other trusts we would not have our wonderful Nature’s Reach visitor centre, community events or activities, and the reserve would look quite different to how it does today. The ‘Breathing New Life into RSPB Sandwell Valley’ Project has really enabled us to look after the nature that we love and to continue creating, developing and maintaining a special place where wildlife and people can co-exist in harmony.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to all our volunteers, staff, members, visitors, local communities, funders and of course the lottery players who make the Heritage Lottery Fund possible. We’re looking forward to what the future holds for RSPB Sandwell!

Photography by Christina