I have been volunteering at the RSPB Sandwell Valley Reserve for over a year now, and my only regret is that I didn’t start volunteering sooner, having lived in the local area for a fair number of years. I mainly do the Friday work parties, but occasionally get involved with other events. It’s great to not only spend more time outside helping with habitat improvement, but also have the opportunity to enhance other peoples’ experiences of connecting to nature.

Friday work parties always have a variety of activities that you can get involved with, so you get to learn about different things and develop new skills. The extra walking around the reserve and the more physical activities are also great exercise!

Some of the things I have worked on that have helped visitors to make their way around the reserve have been making new pieces of path, improving accessibility by clearing back overgrowing foliage, and also improving the signage. To improve the parking facilities, I have worked on improving the drainage in the car park, as well as the ongoing surfacing improvements. It is sometimes hard not to get side tracked by the wildlife around you, but that’s OK. I remember last May when making a particular piece of path, there were Ringlet butterflies everywhere…I have never seen so many at once!

To help younger visitors enjoy their visit, I have helped install a ‘mud kitchen’, (where kids can have great fun with soil and saucepans!) and recently, some giant musical instruments made out of natural materials that they can play tunes with.

A lot of the work is to do with habitat improvement. One of the perks of this is that you often need to go to parts of the reserve which are not accessible to the general public. Going across to the islands by boat in the autumn was fun; it was important to clear much of the vegetation that grows up during the year so that the birds have enough places to nest in the spring. We have also been working on an area of field that will eventually become a wildflower meadow, benefiting both pollinating insects and birds.

This week I have been participating in brushcutter training; a very useful tool when you have a lot of land to manage. I have really enjoyed learning this new skill and also how to look after and maintain the equipment.

Another benefit of volunteering is the social side of things; you get to meet lots of new people with similar interests in nature and conservation. So if you have a few spare hours, why not think about doing some volunteering with the RSPB?

- Jenni

To find out more about our Tuesday and Friday morning work parties, or how you can get involved at RSPB Sandwell, contact sandwellvalley@rspb.org.uk