The words: “Rutland Water” had been thrown around multiple times before I signed up for the work experience; whether it was relating to the beaches, sailing or the water park. I had driven past it numerous times, seeing a vast expanse of water and had walked down to the tip of the Hambleton Peninsula and back to Oakham. What I didn’t know at the time was that it hosted a nature reserve and how large it actually was.

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I discovered the work experience when I was given a pamphlet of work experience options during one tutorial period. I was immediately drawn in as I had already heard of the name numerous times and how much I enjoyed walking down the Hambleton Peninsula. Living in China for a few years, I realised how important it is to protect our natural environment. It was almost as if the job had my name on it, so I wrote an application and sent it in, crossing my fingers that I’d be picked as a volunteer on work experience. I was absolutely overjoyed when I got an email offering me a place.

I started my work experience on Monday the 2nd of July at the Lyndon Visitor Centre. Here I initially worked at the cash register, selling tickets for the numerous people who had come to see and watch the ospreys. I worked with another girl on work experience called Helen who had similar interests with me and was super nice. I was surprised by how many people came in the visitor centre- around 40 people did. They ranged from young families who went for walks to the elderly and the avid birdwatchers. I had numerous discussions with the people coming in, who shared their feelings on the ospreys. Before coming, I vaguely knew what ospreys were, but even through those conversations, I was educated on them. In the afternoon I headed out into numerous hides with two volunteers, Abi and Ken. They brought to light that the ospreys were extinct in England and that Rutland Water was vital in the repopulation scheme, which amazed me. They further discussed with me that the ospreys travel all the way down to Senegal during the winter months and return during the summer. Being interested in climate change and the overall change in the world, I asked them if it had affected the osprey’s behaviour in any way, and they stated that the ospreys were migrating later and returning earlier. This could be due to the warm weather. In the hide, I watched the younger ospreys fly from their nest into the water as some sort of practice. What amazed me the most was witnessing the fight between a buzzard and an osprey. A man sitting next to me took an incredible photo of a buzzard parallel underneath to the osprey with its claws out in mid-air. It almost looked like a mirror image. I really didn’t think much of birdwatching until I actually tried it. It’s a shame that I won’t be here during Birdfair, but Monday was the day that really kicked off my interest in watching birds.

On Tuesday the 3rd Of July, I worked down at the Egleton Birdwatching Centre, alongside the education team consisting of Eileen, Luke, and Dale. However, Dale was at bush-craft with another school so he was absent for most of the day. We were educating primary school students that day. Throughout the day I helped out with the numerous activities that took place throughout the day (pond-dipping and birdwatching). I spent both sessions helping out with the pond dipping as it was a very hot day, and consequently there weren’t many bugs in the shrubs. Throughout the pond-dipping sessions, I helped show the primary school children how to use a net in the pond to catch mini beasts and how to identify them using a key that was provided. During the first session, I helped catch the largest thing that was caught on that day- a dragonfly nymph. Other things that I helped catch and were common among the catches of the day were water boatmen, newt tadpoles, sticklebacks, damselfly nymphs, Ramshorn snails, and freshwater shrimp. I bonded with the kids greatly during the day, waving and smiling at them. It got to the point where they would be calling for me and saying hi, which was wonderful. While helping with the pond-dipping, one of the teachers squealed: “I’m not touching that! Ahh!” when I presented her the net full of pond weed and creatures, and further said: “I don’t know why you would choose this job… There are bugs everywhere! They’re so gross”. I chuckled at this, but deep inside I knew that I really enjoyed handling these creatures. It was one of my best experiences here by far. After lunch, I helped out with the kids birdwatching. I had learned some names of the birds the day before while I was bird watching, and so was able to point and tell the kids what was directly outside of the hide that were  situated in. We saw coots and coot ducklings, swans, cormorants, little egrets, and a lot of squarking black headed gulls. The kids thoroughly enjoyed this. While walking back from the hide, a mini item hunt set up for the kids took place along the way back. After we arrived back at the birdwatching centre, I waved the kids farewell which was a bit emotional as I really loved working with the kids. Once the kids had left, Eileen, Luke, and I washed up all the equipment used and then I went with Luke to trim the willows as they were too long and interfering where people could stand while pond dipping. Then, Luke showed me, in preparation for the day after, how to use a drill among other equipment when we went out to cut the willows. At the end of the day, Dale bought me an ice lolly which was really nice of him (thanks Dale!). We received a full mark rating from the school that day, which was the perfect end to the day for me.

On Wednesday the 4th of July, I worked down at the Volunteer’s Training Centre. That day I met Andy and Joe, along with the other volunteers who I was working with (Stella, Peter, and Brian), who were all very kind and welcoming, even though I was a complete novice with handling the tools and doing any kind of manual physical labour. I also met the habitat team’s dog, Bramble, who was lovely and would often check up on what we were doing. That day we were trying to build a shed to house a metal container that would be containing animal feed. We had to dig multiple deep holes in order to place the wooden beams in. The holes had to be dug through a very hard layer of rocks and limestone. Special equipment had to be used, such as numerous spades, including post spades. We also mixed one part cement to six parts gravel mixed with sand in order to make concrete, which we filled the holes with in order to keep the wooden posts upright. We also strangely enough used the maths that I learned in school (Pythagorean theorem) in order to find a 90 degree angle so we could find where the post directly in front of the other should have been placed. It was a very hot day and I did struggle to do the manual work as a lot of the tools were heavy and the sun was very draining. We ended up being able to dig the holes and correctly position one of the wooden posts, which was a big feat considering how difficult it is to actually dig a hole. We also sawed wood and made the posts longer by attaching the sawed wood to the end of the wooden posts (I even tried sawing wood, which is actually very difficult because it requires a lot of arm energy). I wouldn’t have been able to get through the day if it wasn’t for the kind words from the volunteers (Stella, Peter, and Brian), so I’m very grateful for them. The other volunteers working that day were the most welcoming and I was very thankful to be on such a wonderful team.

On Thursday the 5th of July, I worked down at the Volunteer’s Training Centre again and did an array of jobs. Firstly, I along with Helen, the other volunteer on work experience, and 2 men called Steve and one called Kevin (all volunteers as well), went and herded a lot of female sheep that were on their grazing site outside of the Egleton Birdwatching Centre. It was easier than expected, with us forming a line and the sheep boarding the compartment holding them attached to the van within 7 minutes. Then we made our way to a section of the nature reserve that had to have its fence taken down. The fence was set up in the first place to prevent the numerous deer from grazing on the newly planted trees seventeen years ago. I learned how to hammer out the numerous bolts from the wooden posts, cut metal wire, and roll it to transport the items from the fence back to the scrap recycling place. We managed to finish that by lunch time, and it was originally supposed to be a day’s task but we worked fast as it was very hot and the sun was beating down. After lunch, we were assigned to clear the cobwebs from the numerous hides overlooking the lagoons, which wasn’t the most pleasant experience, but a task that was needed to be done nonetheless. The spiders had created cobwebs all over, to the point where in some of the flaps, the cobwebs almost acted as window panes. It really surprised me how fast the spiders were able to generate the cobwebs, as the hides were cleaned out not long before. Nevertheless, I felt like it was a very efficient day and I had learned a great deal. The volunteers were all lovely and welcoming as usual.

On Friday the 6th of July, I worked down at the Volunteer’s Training Centre once again but I headed off to go insect recording with Brian Wetton, a hoverfly expert. I was really astonished by the level of expertise he had (well, he had been studying hoverflies as well as other insects for 31 years). He could name almost any insect, and its Latin name, which is beyond incredible. I was the person who recorded the numbers of each species of insects that we saw. I learned so much from him about the insects, their habitats, behaviour, and physical characteristics. We went and walked from the Volunteer Training Centre down to the pond area, where we saw many different species of dragonflies, damselflies, hoverflies, and beetles. We had discovered 51 different species of insects just from a relatively small area. We saw species such as the common blue damselfly, large white butterfly, and emerald damselfly just to name the more common ones, and less common species such as the longhorn beetle, Essex skipper butterfly, and sawfly. Overall, it was a very rewarding experience, even though by this point I was tired from the previous 2 days’ physical activity, I really learned so much. I can easily name an emerald damselfly and know how to tell apart male from female hoverflies due to their eye positions (male hoverflies have their eyes touching each other while female hoverflies have their eyes apart from each other). I never knew how interesting insects were until embarking on that mini expedition. Then I wrote this blog detailing my week’s work experience. Next, I’ll be inputting all of the data I collected regarding numbers of the insect species on to the database.

Overall, working at Rutland Water Nature Reserve was an extremely rewarding experience. I felt like I was giving back to nature and helping this reserve by working here. Every single person that I met has been beyond kind. It is the determination to help preserve, restore, and spread the word about Rutland Water Nature Reserve that pushes the volunteers, along with me, to put in the effort every single day. There has not been a day where I have continually looked at my phone checking the time to see how much time I have left until I’ll be let off. It’s a job that has kept me so occupied and a job that I love. If I have the free time, I’ll definitely come and visit the nature reserve again. It’s beautiful and tranquil. I do not regret applying and doing this work experience, and I’m sad to leave as the week has gone by so incredibly fast.

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