My first day as an Assistant Warden at Wallasea Island started by arriving at the office in the morning. As I have volunteered at Wallasea for three and a half years, I was already familiar with the island and some of the Wardens, Rachel and Simon, so settling into the work environment felt natural.
After I had greeted everyone, I was then briefed by Simon on what exactly an Assistant Warden’s tasks are and what I was going to partake in for the duration of the week. My first job would be to assist with the installation of a sea baffle to stop the affects of large waves eroding one of the banks of the lagoons around a drop board sluice. It was explained that as an Assistant Warden I would usually arrange and oversee a task such as this and to do so, you must plan in advance. This means taking into consideration the amount of people you require, which tools will be needed, and if your co-workers are wearing correct personal protective equipment (PPE). Next, we constructed our makeshift baffles out on the reserve out of old fishing kegs and straw, we transported them down to the desired location where we fixed them into place using wooden posts on the banks, this took from roughly 10:00am to 1:30am. As we were near the East, Central and Western lagoons, I also recorded the water levels of each of them by a gauge board located near the bank.
Our last duty of the day was heading over to the opposite side of the island to photograph a newly constructed cattle corral and some water troughs that had recently been filled with water for the first time. Because a grazing marsh requires these and these structures had been built recently, we had to take a photographic recording and check them to ensure we were happy with the work.
Tuesday started with me and another assistant warden, Darran, taking water level and salinity readings for most of the morning. This meant taking a salinity recorder along with us for the salinity testing. I would have to prod the device into the water, wait for the readings to stabilise and measure in parts per thousand. This was carried out to ensure the salinities in the lagoons were at a level suitable for the invertebrate fauna that lives in the sediment and water column. The water level readings were much simpler, as we only had to read a gauge board. We repeated this for all the sites we visited. On return to the office, we imputed all our data into spreadsheets which are updated monthly for the readings to be monitored. The salinity was recorded high in the salt pan, so I was instructed on how to open sluice gates which allowed water from the River Crouch to enter Wallasea Island and help to reduce the salinity.
The remainder of the day consisted of updating the events poster for July-August time and the updating the recent sightings poster.
My third day at Wallasea Island, began by heading out onto the grazing marsh with a small group of volunteers and cutting down ragwort, a type of plant which is toxic to livestock. We spent all of the morning carrying out this task as ragwort grows at a rapid rate, meaning it is vital to keep it controlled. After this we started work on a twin wall pipe, which needed cutting down to size and drilling in preparation to be fitted to the Eastern Borrowdyke to assist drainage, however we could not fit it as a Little Grebe was nesting and we didn’t wish to disturb it. Next, myself and Simon were called onto the de-construction site of the conveyor, which was used to move soil that was brought to the island. We were tasked to observe part of the conveyor as swallows had been sighted flying in and out of a specific part, which had brought some of the workers to question if they were nesting, a closer look confirmed their suspicions.
My last task of the day was simply to head over the salt pan with Simon and carry out a productivity count where we looked for fledglings and chicks of common terns.
Thursday commenced by heading back to the conveyer as me and Simon were tasked to check the pontoon down by the river for any further signs of nests. On the conveyer itself, we found another swallow nest with fledglings inside it and proceeded to photograph them. Then, heading out onto the pontoon, we discovered a herring gull nest with two eggs inside it, which I was informed could possibly be alive as they felt warm. We reported our findings to BAM, the company that is overseeing the de-construction of the conveyer.
To round off Thursday, me and Simon headed back out in the truck to put a post back in the ground which had been removed and thrown in the stream next to it, scraped mud off one of the water gauges and cleared up some litter that had been abandoned by picnickers who had left all their rubbish behind them.
My last day as an Assistant Warden began with collecting a few salinity readings I did not have time to do on Tuesday on the Southern side of the Island. Driving back, me and Rachel stopped to count Avocet and Lapwing fledglings as part of a productivity survey on the lagoons before heading back to the office. After a lunch break, Simon and myself headed back out to finish the productivity survey, going around all the lagoons still recording the same bird species as I did earlier on in the day. Next, we restocked drop boards around the island, which allow water to flow in and out of the lagoons. Lastly, my week finished by spending some time in the office typing up documents for the Island.
Overall, my experience was thoroughly enjoyable, as I was fully engaged in all the assignments I was given and was guided through what I was meant to do with clarity. I fully urge anybody else who might be interested in conservation to try their work experience with the RSPB as you learn key skills which are crucial to a job in this field as well as being around caring and interesting people who will assist you over the duration of your work experience.
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