It is often difficult to answer the question about why you enjoy a site so much. What is it that brings you back time and time again?

My history with the RSPB at Sandwell Valley stretches back to my childhood almost 15 years ago. With a budding interest in wildlife, a family member living in Smethwick sold the place easily, talking about flocks of waterbirds as far as the eye can see, and for my unexperienced self, a bewildering range of species. It sounded like bird heaven!

Following much nagging and youthful enthusiasm, it wasn’t long before my first visit. And what an impression it left. Walking into the visitor centre, I was greeted by an unfamiliar face. Obviously sensing my enthusiasm for birds, he introduced himself as Pete ‘The Snipe’ and excitedly rushed me to the telescopes overlooking an area of muddy water. I looked at a brick-red bird, with a long straight beak and gangly black legs probing about in the mud. Surrounding it were 5 smaller birds, similar in shape, but ‘black’ and white. The bird expert asked if I knew what they were, but the bewildered look on my face presumably gave it away. ‘The big red one is a black-tailed godwit and the smaller ones around it are green sandpipers, they’re just stopping in on their migration’.

A black-tailed godwit AND green sandpipers!!! Two birds I hadn’t even thought I might see! WOW! What an introduction to the site!

(lapwing – a breeding bird at RSPB Sandwell Valley)

Over the next few hours my eyes were well and truly opened as I experienced the broad range of species on the site, much better than my usual ‘patch’ of woodland and grassy fields. I can still see my very first shovelers, teal and goosanders floating about on the lake, with lapwings wading in the shallow water through another helpful volunteers telescope. I was left so gobsmacked, that when I got home that night, I left a now rather cringe-worthy comment on the RSPB online visitor book saying what an amazing visit I had. A piece of digital history that still remains today…

(little ringed plover - one of the more unusual summer residents at RSPB Sandwell)

A lot has changed since those early visits, I’m now much older (and feel it!). The trees have grown and the small, dark visitor centre has been replaced with an amazing, inviting and bright building at Nature's Reach- a hub of activity in the local area. I’ve seen thousands of both black-tailed godwit and green sandpiper worldwide since, but the excitement of that first visit has never left me. The ethos of the site has also remained, a place where even a city dweller like me can foster an interest in the natural world, and allow it to solidify and grow - whatever your age. Those early visits secured a value of nature, far beyond just its aesthetic beauty and has since grown beyond anything I could possibly have imagined. That interest has expanded into an addiction to the natural world, its protection and helping others to enjoy and protect the green spaces that exist around them. I owe it to those early visits for all the amazing moments that have followed since that time.

Volunteering as a hide guide, I am lucky to spend my days chatting with visitors from all walks of life, regular visitors to first timers and all are amazed with what exists at RSPB Sandwell. A wild space in the middle of an urban metropolis. Unless you were told, it’s hard to believe that such a picturesque landscape could exist, sandwiched between the M5 motorway and Birmingham City centre, quite literally the lungs that feed the city around it.

A perfect place to escape the stresses of modern life.

- Craig

Why not visit Craig and our other Hide volunteers during our opening times? The Visitor Centre is open from Tuesday - Sunday. (Please ring or leave us a message on social media to double check if the Hide is open on the day of your visit)