With a plan of starting university in September and hopefully pursuing a career in conservation, Rutland Water was on the top of the list for work experience due to the variety of tasks you can help out with over the course of a week. The diversity allows you to leave with a full knowledge of what it would be like to work at a reservoir and all the daily (and yearly) jobs each team does to keep the site running. The advantage of doing work experience at Rutland Water is that once your week has finished, you can still volunteer in your spare time as all hands are appreciated and used by the nature reserve.
Working in the shop at Egleton Birdwatching Centre with a view over Lagoon 1 led to me seeing my first stoat running across the grass and in the early afternoon and I watched an osprey feeding on a fish in the middle of the water. This was a great first day of my experience. The volunteers running the shop were welcoming and allowed me to use the till and interact with the customers, whilst also labelling and restocking shelves. Both the volunteers and the frequenting twitchers had stories to depart of their experiences with wildlife. Having spent the whole morning with one volunteer in the shop, he spoke of his decision to join the volunteer team here two years ago and how he is trying to learn all the bird species on the reserve using a handy identification guide. It was also refreshing to talk to people who work at the reserve with an interest in other animals such as the bats. This was reassuring as not yet knowing what career I want or what area of conservation interests me the most, it demonstrated that everyone needs a level of knowledge about everything, from birds to beetles, so I don’t need to stress about choosing.
As the schools that come to the centre are all booked in May to July, I helped set up two areas for the children to go bug hunting which comprised of moving wood logs into open spaces of soil for the millipedes and woodlice to make their homes. I also saw the areas in which the Education Team had set up to allow children in wheelchairs to hunt for bugs by having logs on raised platforms, demonstrating the considerations the team go through to ensure all children have an equal chance to experience and enjoy the outdoors.
In addition, I went out with the Habitat Management team and made concrete to help resurrect a bat box which had been blown down in strong winds, then progressed to filling in a large pot hole which led down to one of the hides. The team of three I spent the day with were hard working and quick to show the ropes whilst still being friendly to a novice like myself. They even started helping me to learn the names of all the different species of bird, a task that always seemed a bit daunting, when we visited one of the hides during a work break. The team allowed me to try my hand at all the tasks we needed to complete, and gave me a little leeway when it came to the really heavy lifting, but this didn’t stop my enthusiasm or willingness to help. The Habitat team split into multiple groups in the day to get more jobs finished, they are currently building a boardwalk into one of the lagoons to help with bird ringing of more difficult-to-reach birds. I met the Hebridean sheep grazing on the grasslands which were curious about the bat box being erected next to their field, the lambs haven’t started arriving yet but in the field I was in, there were 6 pregnant mothers the team were waiting to deliver.
This was followed by a day in which I identified moths from a trap set up overnight and inputted data into an online record regarding the spotting of different species of butterfly; this was a reminder that the work carried out at Rutland Water is used by different organisations to monitor species across the whole county and the UK. The reserve has wildlife record sheets which volunteers use when they walk around the reservoir and lagoons to log all the animals they see, whether that’s birds or butterflies. The volunteers do an incredible job at the reserve helping core teams in each department manage the habitats and survey the area. The online record shows the distribution of a species in Leicestershire and Rutland, yet it also has information on all the species identified so when a species of butterfly had been recorded and I wasn’t sure what it looked like, I typed it in to the website and found out about its presence in the county, such as that of the Ringlet Butterfly.
My final day here will be spent with the Osprey team over at the Lyndon Birdwatching Centre in which I hope to see at least one of the 15 Ospreys that have made it back so far this year, particularly as one pair have just laid their first egg of the season. Spending time working with the volunteers and staff at the reservoir has ignited a drive in me to research areas of this field which I had never looked into before. The teams have inspired me to learn the different species of birds and learn the multiple techniques for habitat management, from coppicing to the relevance of ride scallops, something which I can put to my advantage when at university and at future career posts.