Dear colleagues, friends, fellow volunteers and supporters of the RSPB
With my spell as Council Chairman complete, this is the last ‘end-of-term’ message that I’ll be writing. It’s been a fantastic five years – made deeply rewarding by the close-range view I’ve had of everything that the RSPB is capable of. It’s invidious to pick out highlights from such a rich timeline, and what follows is inevitably just a flavour.
It’s been tremendous over these years to see our landscape-scale restoration and conservation expand, for example at Medmerry (Sussex), Wallasea (Essex), Vyrnwy (Powys), Hesketh (Lancashire), Forsinard and Abernethy (Scottish Highlands), in some of these cases realising ambitions we’ve held over long periods. We’ve also scaled up work in the UK’s Overseas Territories, simultaneously helping the UK government to realise its responsibilities. Several of these gains at home and abroad have involved stepping up work with others to multiply our footprint: over and over I’ve learned how much our partners respect and value our capabilities.
Specifically for bird species, ongoing successes for the world’s albatrosses, stone curlew or cirl bunting show what’s possible where we work positively with those involved with food production: the fishing industry, farmers and landowners. In my 13 years on Council, I’ve visited all the RSPB regions and seen much of this work on the ground. One example is the Glenwherry breeding waders project in the Antrim Hills, where RSPB advisers have worked with local farmers since 2011 to start to reverse the decline in curlews, lapwings and snipe. This shows how we can turn around the fortunes of some of the most challenging species even beyond our reserves.
As an ecologist, I recognise how conservation science is at the heart of so many of our successes, and the creation and growing profile of our excellent Centre for Conservation Science shows how evidence, alongside passion, is written through the RSPB’s DNA. So many of the Centre’s publications regularly make the headlines in their own right, but the multi-partner State of Nature reports in 2013 and 2016 flooded the media with stories of the increasingly precarious condition of important species and habitats.
But of course, yet again with partners, we seek lasting solutions to conservation problems. The HLF-funded ‘Back from the Brink’ project with Natural England and the ‘2020’ group of species-led conservation bodies is delivering our all-nature objectives in one of the largest projects of its type ever launched and the single largest UK contribution to stopping species’ extinction.
Politically, partnership work has been pivotal to activity and success: think of the Brexit-focussed #greenerUK, the Climate Coalition with #showhelove and the record-shattering success of our campaign with Birdlife to #defendnature and the EU Directives: I remember punching the air late in the evening of 25 July 2015 as the campaign web-counter clicked to record 500,000 supporters. What a moment!
Although not as conspicuous outside the RSPB, there has been major work on the inside. DOT has been a huge success in developing our leadership, and at another level there has been a leap forward in recognising and enabling four country working. In an organisation founded substantially by women, it is particularly apposite that three of our four country directors are women – along with three of our Board of Directors – but we still have more to do on diversity.
Over and over, there are so many reasons to laud the major contribution to the RSPB’s mission by our volunteers, and it’s been great to see us do more for them by way of some small return. We’ve developed volunteering internships, offered more opportunities for specialist inputs, and enhanced our flexibility for bite-sized contributions. Our annual Volunteer Engagement Survey shows that our volunteers feel increasingly positive, and for example almost 90% of them say that they would recommend RSPB volunteering to others.
The fundraising and communications teams have brought us some fantastic highlights during these past five years. As I stepped into the Chairman’s post in October 2012, we had ‘Birds’ magazine, a brand in need of a refresh, and nobody had seen the RSPB in a mainstream TV ad. Our member number stood at just under 1.1 million. Well, you know the rest. We have a vibrant brand. ‘Nature’s Home’ magazine goes from strength to strength. A starling and a little girl named Molly became the stars of an award winning campaign. And I’m delighted to say that when Council, earlier this month, signed off the 2016/17 accounts they showed a record number of members – 1,223,233 – and income from legacies at an all-time high.
Times are likely to be harder ahead – particularly as fundraising and data regulations bite – but I believe that the membership strength, faith and commitment to our mission that you’ve all worked so hard to foster will help maintain our impact. And, even if we must tighten our belts, we will still have every right to be furious at the state of the natural world, and impassioned in our actions to save it.
Being the Chairman of one of the most effective charities in the world has been far and away the best job that I’ve ever had. I claim absolutely no credit, however, for what the RSPB achieves. For those achievements are all yours: every one of you is involved somewhere in our successes, in our strength and in our unstoppable momentum.
The new Chairman – with new skills for the RSPB’s new challenges – is very fortunate to inherit all I must now relinquish.
For one last time, I thank you profoundly for everything you do for the RSPB.
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...
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: https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering-fundraising/volunteer/residential-volunteering/
Get involved, make a difference and help give nature a home...
Guest blog by RSPB Cymru Volunteer, Sian Bettley
My name is Sian Bettley. I am 14 years old and I have just finished my first three months volunteering with RSPB Cymru. I haven’t volunteered for a charity or organisation before but the RSPB was definitely a great one to work with. I started volunteering to complete my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award, and I have now decided to do another three months of volunteering so I can gain my Silver and Gold Award.
I had a great experience and got to work with some amazing people and visit lots of beautiful green spaces all over Cardiff, some of which I have not visited before such as, Hailey Park, Heath Park and Lisvane. I was also in close contact with the public, something I have not really done much of before, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I mainly got to work with children ranging from two to 12 and enjoyed some activities such as bird spotting, simple tree identification and pond dipping, to name a few, and it was quite clear the children loved every minute of it.
But I wasn’t just volunteering at outdoor events. I did a sponsored swim and fundraiser with all donations going to the RSPB. It was a great way to start my volunteering by raising money independently in my own time.
If anyone is considering volunteering, I would definitely recommend the RSPB, no matter your age or how much experience you have. You get to attend lots of events, be outdoors and bring more nature into peoples’ lives. But there is one thing every volunteer must know, and that is to be ready for anything. I have been accidently covered in water while carrying a tub full of water; seen a four year old trying to squash the insects we caught; and possibly my favourite, a few passing puppies trying to drink from our pond dipping tub that contained several fish, water boatmen and other pond life! Luckily no puppies or aquatic creatures were harmed.
You also don’t need a lot of experience to be a great asset. In fact I ended up learning more about nature and wildlife than some of the people taking part. I can now indentify many types of insects and pond live that I didn’t even know existed before.
It’s really easy to get involved and start volunteering for the RSPB. When I realised I wanted to volunteer, I sent off an online application form with my mum, and before I knew it we were getting regular emails about me becoming a volunteer. I went for an enrolment session and got to meet some people I would be working with. Then I was out at events with the general public.
I chose RSPB Cymru for my DofE volunteering as I wanted to be closer to and learn more about nature. The RSPB is also one of the few charities that allow volunteers of my age to be a bigger part of a team, while others only allow fundraising and do not truly involve their younger volunteers. So for that, and for giving young people the chance to show what they can do, I thank RSPB Cymru. I have really enjoyed my first three months of volunteering and I am looking forward to the next few months ahead…
If you would like more information about how you can volunteer for the Duke of Edinburgh Award in Cardiff, please email Carolyn.Robertson@rspb.org.uk. #WildCardiff / #CaerdyddGwyllt