Residential Volunteering opens up a whole world of opportunities, from meeting new people and getting closer to nature to boosting your CV and gaining new skills. Here, Glasgow University student Lorna Beattie tells us all about her experience at our Loch Lomond reserve...

Why Volunteer?

As a full-time geography student at the University of Glasgow, I have been waiting for the summer holidays to arrive for a welcome break from lecture halls and looming library aisles. And what better way to escape the city than moving to an RSPB reserve?

Although some people thought I was crazy for working on my only time off, I don’t regret my decision at all. I am getting to explore an amazing place, meet some brilliant people and to top it all off I’m saving a fortune with the free accommodation and lack of nights out. I signed up for 2 weeks and stayed for 3 months, it’s safe to say I would recommend it. Here are the 5 reasons I would suggest residential volunteering:

1) Friends are for life, not just for summer

This is my second year residential volunteering (although last year was only for 2 weeks) and I am still in touch with some of the people I met. This year, I am staying in the provided accommodation for 3 months with 2 other girls. We don’t miss TV or nights out because we create our own entertainment and nights in. From movie nights to card games til 1am, you get to know the people you’re living with quickly and form strong bonds as a result. As well as living with the people, you will be working with them on the reserve. There are plenty of other like minded people who come along for the day to volunteer, and you already know there is a guaranteed common ground of loving nature and the great outdoors! 

2) Boost your CV

These days it’s all too common to leave university with a quality degree and still struggle to find a job at the other end. Experience is one of the best ways to stand out, so why not get started while you’re still studying? If you know what sort of job you want, try getting some experience with a well known company (such as the RSPB for nature conservation). Even if you hate it, at least you know before you commit to a full time job! When I first started my residential volunteering, I knew I wanted a career with the RSPB, but I didn’t realise that there were so many ways to get involved. After 3 months, I’m leaning towards visitor experience – that way I get to share my passion with so many others, and hopefully get some young nature enthusiasts keen too!

3) Explore new places

Although I’ve lived in Glasgow my whole life, I’ve only visited Loch Lomond twice. By volunteering at the RSPB Scotland Loch Lomond nature reserve I now feel like I know this place inside out. By living on the reserve I get to experience it in a whole other way. From watching sunsets over Ben Lomond or walking the reserve at 4am for a bird survey, you gain so much more than you would on a simple day trip. There are 40 reserves on which you can residential volunteer, from islands off the coast of Northern Ireland, to central England. Whether close to home or far away, the RSPB reserves will allow you to explore, learn and be stunned by their beauty. 

4) Learn new skills

After the stress of exams has past, the last thing I felt like doing is learning something else. But learning on the reserve is completely different to sitting in a stuffy lecture hall all day trying not to doze off. I have learnt more in the last two months that I could’ve in a classroom. I know birds by their calls, I have the confidence to lead guided walks and I can make a bird feeder out of an apple (that one was aimed at kids, but a skill is a skill). Perhaps the greatest skill that I have learned is to dress as a giant otter and get my photo taken with lots of visitors. It may not be a job requirement, but being the mascot at the new path launch was a real confidence booster and a day I won’t forget in a hurry.

5) Know where you’re going

From astronaut to weather girl, I’ve considered plenty of jobs in my 21 years. I’ve always had a love of nature, walking and bird watching but never saw a way to turn it into a career. By volunteering with the RSPB, I can see endless opportunities to be involved and now know that this is what I want to do. On the other hand, had I hated trudging round the reserve or chatting away to visitors about birds, I would’ve started searching for another idea to add to my list of career options. The most you could lose is a couple of weeks (and a couple of pounds – the reserve really is natures gym) and the list of what you could gain is endless. I have gained friends, knowledge, memories, muscles, willpower, experience and so many life skills. I may have come here hoping to help the RSPB, but they have helped me too.

How to get involved:

There are over 40 different reserves that you can do residential volunteering with. It doesn’t have to be your whole summer, some places offer from as little as a week! You can do it alone or with a friend, check out the opportunities available at the moment:

Get involved, make a difference and help give nature a home...