Volunteer Voices: Megan’s first week

We love hosting residential volunteers here at RSPB Haweswater, they offer an incredible amount of support to the team, whilst having the opportunity to develop new skills and experience in our beautiful, wild corner of the Lake District. Currently we can only welcome one residential volunteer at a time, and for the next couple of months, we have the company of Megan Jones. Join Megan for her first few days living and working on the reserve., through her own words and photos.

Waking to the dawn chorus singing just outside my window, I draw the curtains and open the window to allow their songs to fill my cosy farmhouse room. The sky is dappled and the trees gently swaying as the babbling beck flows down the valley. A stern drumming from a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a welcome song of spring, “tee-cher, tee-cher, tee-cher”, from a bonnie Great Tit lift the corners of my mouth before I begin to get ready for my day.

The last two weeks have flown by, working outside everyday around Naddle farm and the surrounding fells and valleys. I am fortunate to be the new residential volunteer warden at RSPB Haweswater and it is safe to say that I am loving it so far! This opportunity fell just at the right time, enabling me to gain a few months experience in practical conservation work before another short job I have lined up in the summer with the Abernethy RSPB reserve.

Since graduating last July, I have been volunteering at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve whilst I looked for jobs. Volunteering has really opened doors for me, giving me valuable experience, meeting like-minded people, and learning more about working in conservation. I have a keen interest in rewilding and landscape restoration and have been reading up on these topics over the last year. RSPB Haweswater has rewilding and wildlife restoration as their key courses of action making this opportunity very exciting!

It is great to be in an environment where I have conversations about these topics everyday and learn about them whilst developing skills in practical land management. What’s more, these processes are being addressed within a farm setting. With a large portion of the UK’s land being attributed to farmland, showing the progression of rewilding alongside farming is something that is hugely valuable. Places like RSPB Haweswater are important in showing insights into how larger areas of the country can adopt more sustainable farming practices that promote enhanced soil health, biodiversity, climate mitigation and access to nature for people.

I have been getting my bearings of the running’s of the reserve, the vast areas it covers, and the contributing parties that govern the workings of the reserve and surrounding areas. Reducing grazing from sheep and deer is one of the main issues being addressed here. Heavy grazing by sheep keeps the fells and valleys barren without trees and shrubs. And in the case of deer, without the presence of predators to control their numbers and keep them on the move, heavy grazing on tree saplings prevents succession and trees maturing. The RSPB team have therefore been working hard to reduce grazing across the reserve, using deer fences and excluding sheep from areas of land. Tree planting is also a big part of the work happening here, which we got stuck into on the second week of my stay as the spring sun decided to greet us with its rays! It was a nice change from the rain we had every day of the first week, but that was to be expected in the Lake District!

There have been a great variety of tasks to assist with including making large wooden tree cages, dissembling old fencing, sorting through saplings readying them for planting, and collecting tree cuttings to propagate. Then during the good weather, days were spent out on the fells tending to already planted saplings that had been damaged from grazing or exposure and then, of course planting trees! During the second week we planted 232 trees; juniper in the uplands which have been grown from juniper berries within the reserve, taking 18 months to germinate! Then willow, birch, and aspen amongst others are planted on lower fells and in the valleys, which will go on to create healthy habitats for a myriad of species in the future.

Spending each day out in nature, tuning into the surrounding sounds and wider landscapes has already been so insightful and valuable in my personal learning and development. With future ambitions of assisting with the wider rewilding journey of the UK, this experience at RSPB Haweswater is a wonderful stepping stone and I am excited for the rest of my time here


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