Eleanor has spent the past week volunteering at Rutland Water Nature Reserve. Here she writes about her experience.
I spent a week towards the beginning of April doing work experience here at Rutland Water. I had visited the centre before, four years previously, and so I was really excited to come back and see if it had changed and to discover more about it. One of my main personal aims of the week was to develop my knowledge surrounding nature conservation, which is something that I have always been interested in, but know little about. As a student one year into studying my A levels and with some pretty big decisions ahead of me, I thought that spending a week doing something a bit different to what I would usually do at school which I know that I have enjoyed doing bits of in the past would help me to consolidate my ideas surrounding what I may want to do in the future.
I started my week off at Egleton Birdwatching Centre, helping out at the shop for the day. It was really exciting to see how retail works behind-the-scenes, as I have never spent time in this area of work before. I loved chatting to all the interesting and lovely people who came into the shop, as well as helping unload deliveries and sorting boxes, which I found very satisfying! I also spent a while stocking up the shelves with all sorts of types of bird food, as well as mugs with birds painted on the sides, whilst learning from the friendly team who worked there about the different sorts of birds you could see from the shop; one wall was made up of a glass window which looked onto the reserve, and it was absolutely beautiful to look at as well as being incredibly fascinating! There was a telescope set up by the window, which I enjoyed looking through and observing different birds from, and upstairs there was a gallery which looked onto the reserve which was an excellent viewing point as one could see for miles from there. I really enjoyed my day helping out at the shop, and meeting all the people who worked there, and it was a lovely way to start of my week!
On Tuesday I was back again at Egleton, this time working with a school group of around 20 five to six year-olds. Before they arrived, I helped set up the day, by laying down I.D. charts, nets, trays and binoculars in preparation for the day’s events: pond-dipping, bug-hunting and birdwatching. As well as helping the children with identifying the creatures that they found, I also learnt a lot myself! One of the highlights of the day was when the children were bug-hunting and someone found a newt which had escaped from the pond, and all the children rushed round to look at it. It was very rewarding to see the children loving everything they did and taking a huge amount of interest in it all – when we took them to the bird hide, one of the little girls, upon spotting and successfully identifying a teal, announced that she wanted to ‘stay here all day’. On the way back from birdwatching, the children did a scavenger hunt, in which they all gasped and exclaimed at every exciting look twig, feather or shell that they came across, which was so encouraging to witness. After the school group had left and we had finished tidying up, I cut out some bird masks in preparation for the family day that was being planned for Sunday. I really loved helping out with the children, and seeing what the Education Team does, as I feel it is really important to educate younger children about nature, but also to ensure that they enjoy doing so in a friendly setting.
On Wednesday, I was at Lyndon Osprey Centre, which is the main centre for visitors who want to see Ospreys, and so was particularly popular whilst I was there because the Ospreys were just returning from Senegal and Gambia, where they migrate to in late August early September. What is more, the centre is home to a bird hide with a web-cam and an excellent view of the most famous nest, which is home to Maya and 33, and which most people come to look at. I spent the morning in the office with Marie, who was really welcoming and lovely. I wrote up a spreadsheet on Excel, with the information on it copied from the log which the volunteers keep, which tracks the progress of Maya and 33 – there are volunteers watching the nest 24/7, and it is important to keep a record of how the pair are doing to ensure that they are safe and happy. The information I wrote up spanned one week in which the pair had only just returned. It was fascinating to see their behaviour, and how the two differed. Sometimes, Maya would be gone from the nest for only three minutes, but at other times it would be nearer to an hour. After that, I wrote up a blog post about the latest action from the Ospreys. Using the webcam, Marie and I were able to rewind and see what the two had been up to. We identified that they had swapped places twice; I wrote up this information and Marie added a photograph to it, and uploaded it to the website. It was so exciting to see something that I had written on a page that I myself have read multiple times before! My last job in the office was to update the fact-files about Maya and 33 by rewriting them on an A4 document, making it as informal as possible so that it would be more engaging to read. I loved doing this because as I did so I had to research the Ospreys so that I was not missing anything out, which I found hugely enlightening – for example, I never knew that Maya and 33 had a somewhat rough start together; 33 intruded on Maya and her previous partner’s nest, and kicked out both the other male (28) and then the eggs out of their nest, causing immense confusion for Maya as she had incubated the eggs only to have no chicks to raise that summer. Despite this, however, Maya and 33 eventually became a breeding pair, and have raised five chicks together since they first bred, a year later in 2015. After this, I was taken down to the main bird-hide by two incredibly friendly and hospitable volunteers, who gave me a brief tour of some of the smaller hides, and then took me on to see the Ospreys. I spent a fascinating few hours in the main hide observing Maya and 33, and learning huge amounts about them. The volunteers had set up two telescopes which were helpful for watching the birds, and there was a screen with the live nest webcam playing on it. We welcomed visitors to the hide and briefed them on what Maya and 33 were up to. Throughout most of the afternoon, Maya was alone on her nest, with 33 either perched on a fallen branch nearby or out of sight, presumably looking for fish although he never came back for any, despite Maya’s persistent nudges! Overall, I had a fascinating and highly educational day with some lovely people who were all very enthusiastic about their work and ready to answer any questions that I had.
I spent my penultimate day at the Volunteer Training Centre (VTC) with the Habitat Team, which, like the other teams, is made up of a combination of volunteers and staff. We were all given a quick briefing for the day, and people’s various jobs were given out. One group was going to be working on the construction of Teal Hide next to Lyndon Osprey Centre, whilst myself and the four people I was with were going to be working on the roads in the reserve, also at Lyndon. After loading up the minibus with rakes, shovels, and a wheelbarrow, we set off to the centre where we spent the day following along a tractor shovelling limestone into the potholes in the road, and then going over them with a machine that flattened and condensed the stone, called a roller. It was tiring work but immensely satisfying to say the least, and it was lovely to have lots of cheerful comments from both volunteers and visitors who were passing by! We spent our lunch break in a bird hide where we chatted to each other and watched the birds. There were many cormorants on the water that day, as well as a pair of great crested grebe. Whilst we were sitting there, I learnt a lot from the very knowledgeable people I was working with. By the time we had finished filling in the holes with limestone, the sun had come out and the day had turned very summery, so I was very thankful to be outside on the reserve enjoying it. I absolutely loved the day with the Habitat Team, and it was felt very fulfilling to see what one day’s work can do to change a few tracks.
I spent the final day back at the VTC again, this time in the office doing behind-the-scenes work, for example sorting through uniform for the volunteers which had been delivered that morning, and reflecting on my week.
Overall, I had a thoroughly enjoyable, as well as highly educational, week at Rutland Water. The best part of it was getting to meet all the enthusiastic, warm people who worked there, and who went out of their way to make me feel included and ensured that I got the best out of the week, whilst teaching me all there is to know about the wildlife here at Rutland! I would really like to go on and work at the reserve someday, as it has reminded me of my love for nature and has been hugely enlightening. I would definitely recommend doing work experience here to anyone who thinks that they might be interested in nature conservation!