Island life – volunteering on The May

You might have noticed from Twitter that last week our Chief Exec, Francesca Osowska, was working on our Isle of May National Nature Reserve (NNR).  Her reasons for spending time on the Isle of May were twofold: to see life from the perspective of our NNR volunteers, while promoting volunteering opportunities; and to talk about the five major causes of nature loss, as highlighted in the recent UN IPBES report.  In our blog post today Francesca tells us more about her time on the island.


Welcome to The May Team

We have two employees on the Isle of May: Reserve Manager, David Steel and Assistant Reserve Manager, Bex Outram.  They are joined by two seasonal volunteers: Ella Benninghaus and Cristin Lambert. Also on the island are researchers from the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and this week, a young birders group. So pretty busy for a small island!


Ella recording BBC Radio 4’s Puffin Podcast

I shadowed Ella and Cristin for the week, joining them on tasks such as the morning puffling rescue, various bird surveys (tern, wader and great black-backed gulls this week), beach cleaning, preparing for visitors (and clearing up after them) and talking to visitors when they’re on the island. A lot of this is fun (although when the puffling you’re trying to rescue runs even deeper into vicious nettles you begin to wonder…) but there are plenty of mundane tasks too. Cleaning the visitor toilets, trying to keep the accommodation tidy and cooking for up to 18 (happily I wasn’t put on the cooking rota), for example.

If you’re used to office work, working on a reserve can come as a bit of a shock.  Instead of the working day being dominated by the calendar and meetings, it’s dictated by season, weather and visitors. Some work is best done when visitors aren’t on the island and when they are, the job is to spend time with them. Wet weather can impact on the outdoor work, making time to input all the bird data that has been collected. ‘Working day’ has a different concept compared to the office based day. Some days start early (for example, one morning we started a rota from 06:00 to keep watch on vulnerable tern chicks) and the team here is often working late into the night (for example, helping the CEH researchers with their monitoring of puffin eating habits).

It was brilliant to see Ella and Cristin at work: natural and knowledgeable with visitors and a source of expertise on the island’s birdlife. Our NNRs simply wouldn’t function without our fantastic volunteers. It’s hard work, but also a lot of fun and very rewarding. We have a range of opportunities available to suit different interests, skills and availability. If you’re interested in volunteering on an NNR your first point of call is our website

The other thought that struck me whilst I was on the Isle of May was how much our NNRs encapsulate all the work that we’re doing to try to prevent biodiversity loss by tackling the key drivers highlighted in the IPBES report:

  1. Changing land and sea use;
  2. Pollution;
  3. Climate change;
  4. Direct exploitation;
  5. Invasive non-native species.

Much of our work across NNRs is directly addressing these issues in a very practical way.

It was brilliantly educative week – thank you David, Bex, Ella and Cristin for having me.


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