As part of our #Volunteersweek celebrations, we wanted to share with you some of the stories from our very own RSPB volunteers. With almost 2000 volunteers helping in the South East alone, we can achieve much more for wildlife with their help  than we ever could alone!

Arline Bonsall gives us a unique insight into the ‘life and times’ of her volunteering over the years.

"I was born in the East End of London and lived very close to the River Thames in the now very fashionable Docklands – funny how things change! You may be thinking ‘not a lot of wildlife there’, but think again.  In post-war East London there were hundreds of wildlife adventure parks (bombsites) and a lot of open space being recovered from wartime farming. This was my playground. I didn’t think of it like that at the time but all that open space being invaded by nature and the TV influences of Armand and Michaela Dennis (wildlife documentary film-makers and presenters) and Hans and Lotte Hass (underwater photographers and film-makers) sowed the seeds of a lifetime fascination with nature.

While I was young, family holidays were in Essex coastal towns and in the hop-picking areas of Kent. I was free to roam around and spent many days wandering peaceful country lanes looking at the plants in the hedgerows and watching for any animals that crossed my path.

As a teenager I joined my elder brother on excursions to Bookham Common in Surrey where he was doing some wildlife surveys for the London Naturalists Club. The weather could be unpredictable and one week I had to be hoisted out of a deep muddy puddle by Ken Livingstone! He wasn’t famous then, but he was a friend of my brother’s and often one of our group.

I went on to study Zoology at London University and was particularly interested in animal behaviour and parasitology; unfortunately there were not a lot of career opportunities in those areas at the time so I became a research technician, then a civil servant then a hospital laboratory technician before becoming a mother and ‘retiring‘ for a while.

When my children were about 7/8 years old, we were living in Sussex on the edge of a wooded copse (a far cry from the bombsites) and they were already keen to learn more about the natural world. I signed them up for an activity day at Arundel Wetland Centre and then went on to volunteer there myself, guiding groups, running craft activities, giving talks and pond dipping. After several years of working with school groups around the reserve I studied for a PGCE and taught in a lovely primary school close to home for about 10 years. I continued to volunteer at weekends and school holidays, mostly with pond dipping.

When my children left home I moved with my husband to live on a narrowboat in the Midlands where there was lots of wildlife around. It wasn’t long before I was drawn into volunteering again, this time with the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust at Brandon Marsh near Coventry. There was lots of reserve walking, tree measuring and – of course – pond dipping!

When I returned to Sussex, sadly alone, I visited RSPB Pagham Harbour nature reserve on a very cold day in November. I had been here with my pupils when I was a teacher and was pleased to see the site still doing well. After a short walk (it really was very cold!) I returned to the visitor centre and spent a pleasant hour chatting to Christine, the volunteer on the desk. I like to talk, and by the end of that time I’d been signed up as a volunteer and I started a couple of weeks later as an education volunteer. I’ve been happily volunteering there for a few years now and have made new friends as well as found old ones. I still talk a lot (a good thing in a volunteer apparently!), and I spend much of my time – yes, you guessed it – pond dipping!

To find out about our volunteering opportunities near you visit our website.