Celebrating Volunteers’ Week with the Loch Leven Volunteers

In our second blog paying homage to all volunteers during Volunteers’ Week, Chris Boyce, our student Placement at Loch Leven National Nature Reserve (NNR), explains some of the benefits of volunteering.

There are two main roles for people volunteering for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) at Loch Leven. We have a regular volunteering group every Wednesday, helping with essential work such as wildlife surveys and tasks such as path maintenance, tree planting, wildflower meadow management, and control of non-native invasive plants. And we have a separate team of dedicated insect surveyors who’ve been recording the populations of butterflies, bumblebees, dragonflies and damselflies on the nature reserve for an impressive 13 years. Much of this work is essential to the running of the reserve and could not be done without them, and the long-term monitoring is invaluable in understanding insect populations at Loch Leven.

Volunteers previously harvesting yellow rattle seed at Burleigh meadow

Volunteers previously harvesting yellow rattle seed at Burleigh meadow

Volunteering benefits the cause but also the volunteers themselves. It’s a real high point in my working week and it’s clear the volunteers also value this social aspect. Richard said “joining the Wednesday Volunteers became one of the highlights of the week [and has led to] new friends and banter,” while Dave has “found a close circle of new friends with whom I now share many adventures, social events and fun.”

Volunteering also promotes engagement with the wider community and John told me he’s most proud of “contact and discussion with the public … to help improve ownership and awareness of the reserve to more people.”

Volunteering can also lead to new skills and experiences. Frances particularly enjoys “the freedom of being outdoors in a beautiful environment, seeing wildlife at close quarters, and often getting pretty mucky!”. Everyone’s species identification skills have improved and Dave said “the most rewarding aspect is being able to share my new found knowledge of the local wildlife and countryside with my wife and two enthusiastic grandsons”.

I think a really positive feature of volunteering at SNH is the provision of formal training with external providers, such as Outdoor Emergency First Aid, driving our Polaris All-Terrain Vehicle, and using machinery like brushcutters. This helps boost confidence and allows people to really get stuck in with nature reserve work.

Volunteers building the new ramp at Burleigh hide low res

Volunteers building the new ramp at Burleigh hide

Many of our volunteers are inspired by the natural world, though most did not have any formal background in nature or conservation. When asked what work at Loch Leven they were most proud of, Jackie said “planting the reed beds at Carsehall bog – they’re there for the future,” while Richard added, “top of the list must include hedge laying,” a traditional technique to produce thick, dense hedges – perfect for wildlife. Richard nicely sums up a shared feeling amongst our volunteers: “the satisfaction afterwards of being able to say, ‘I helped do that,’ continues to be my motivation and indeed what I enjoy most about it all.” Hear more from some our volunteers in this film from a few years ago.

Volunteering is key to the success of the conservation and environmental sectors, whether it’s practical work, contributing to wildlife recording, or raising awareness of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Personally, I’ve volunteered with both national conservation charities and small local groups, while continuing to take part in bird surveys for the British Trust for Ornithology and submitting sightings of plants and invertebrates to national recording schemes. I can also attest to the satisfaction with being involved in something that will be there for future generations. I remember the sense of achievement when I was first involved in a tree planting project, marking the location on a map so that one day I’ll be able to visit the woodland I helped establish. Louise, our seasonal Reserve Officer, volunteered at Loch Leven before getting her job and told me, “I loved coming on a Wednesday and it was always a dream to actually work here. I enjoyed working alongside the other volunteers and it’s really nice that most of them are still volunteering with us”. The experience of having been a volunteer definitely helps when you find yourself leading a volunteering group and it makes you all the more appreciative of the hard work they do.

View over Loch Leven NNR from the hide at Burleigh ©Lorne Gill/SNH

View over Loch Leven NNR from the hide at Burleigh ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Our volunteering at Loch Leven, like many activities, are on hold due to the Covid-19 restrictions, but you can find out more about volunteering with Scottish Natural Heritage, explore volunteering opportunities at Volunteer Scotland, and during current restrictions you can still contribute to citizen science projects.

Finally, I would like to say thank you to our volunteers at Loch Leven and all of you around the country who help make our world a kinder and more beautiful place.

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