If you look on the RSPB main web site you will find that the RSPB has over 12000 volunteers contributing nearly 1 million hours a year and that there are few rules and qualifications to joining in as a volunteer. Well at Lake Vyrnwy we don't have thousands of volunteers and although it may feel like it sometimes, we don't do a million hours a year,  but we do have one key rule - if you volunteer here you have to enjoy yourself, because everyone else does.

Lake Vyrnwy is a fantastic, beautiful place to spend time, but it's people who help the RSPB to give nature a home and deliver a great experience for all our visitors. My name is John and I'm the volunteer handyman at Vyrnwy (actually I prefer the welsh for handyman – tasgmon) where I've been volunteering for three and a half years. I'll tell you more about what I do later, but first I'd like to tell you about the diverse tasks that our regular volunteers take on at Lake Vyrnwy.

Lake Vyrnwy

Mike has a specialist volunteer role which includes monitoring the reserve Willlow Tit population as part of a wider RSPB project. Willow Tit have recently declined in Britain, but continue to thrive at Lake Vyrnwy. One aspect of this work has been to construct specially designed nest boxes (from home grown RSPB Larch). The boxes are placed in clusters within known Willow Tit territory and filled with wood chip for the birds to excavate. Our boxes provide more secure accommodation than the relatively flimsy rotten trees in which Willow Tit usually nest. Three pairs of Willow Tit nested in our boxes in 2017.

Unlike 'normal' bird boxes these special boxes are retrieved each Autumn and stored indoors until being filled with dry wood chips and relocated next Spring. Collecting the boxes involves long treks into dense wet scrub trying to find them (they're camouflaged so we often struggle to see the wood for the trees ….).

Willow Tit nest boxes in shed (left) and Willow Tit box in situ (right)

Dan is volunteering as part of the conservation team. Dan actually joined the team as an intern, working full time at Lake Vyrnwy for 6 months. He enjoyed it so much he decided to stay on working as a volunteer which has involved him in many varied tasks including the annual nest box maintenance programme of over 500 nest boxes around the reserve. However, his most famous performance was when we had a Gruffalo event for our younger visitors, which started with the reading of a Gruffalo story in our classroom, followed by a nature walk looking for the characters in the story and the food they eat, culminating in meeting the Gruffalo in the woods. Well a couple of others had donned the Gruffalo suit to entertain the children, but Dan made a lasting impression as the only 'dancing' Gruffalo!

RSPB Lake Vyrnwy shop

I said earlier that it is people who help the RSPB deliver a great experience for our visitors and some of the key volunteers who do just that are Cynthia, Jayne, Liz, Jan and Judy who all work in the RSPB Shop and Visitor Information Centre. Lake Vyrnwy is what we call an open reserve; there is no special entrance gate nor any entrance fee, so the Shop and Visitor Information Centre is where visitors interact with the RSPB. These ladies are all volunteers who run the shop and all that entails to support the Retail Manager, but as well as that, they help visitors with information leaflets, maps of the walks, where the hides are, where you can park and where you can see things around what is one of the biggest RSPB reserves in the UK. If you are after binoculars or telescopes then they will demonstrate the range of optics available from the shop and let you try for yourselves.  Just now they have been putting together new Christmas displays. The shop is open every day of the year except Christmas day – so you understand why we are always looking for new volunteers to help.

Of course you can buy nest boxes from the shop, so the ladies thought it would be a good idea to put a nest  box up on the outside of the shop, which was done 2 years ago. What no-one expected was for an enterprising pair of blue tits to take up residence and raise a brood using the nest box right next to the shop entrance.

 Jan is also the RSPB education/learning officer for Lake Vyrnwy, visiting schools to explain what giving nature a home is all about, and organising school trips to the reserve when Liz is on hand to help guide the school parties around. These visits usually include a walk along the nest box trail where the pupils have to spot the different nest boxes and their potential occupants. Jan is married to a local farmer and is passionate about farming, Wales, the Welsh language and conservation linked to farming. As well as her education duties, she organises visits to the RSPB farm on the reserve, the largest organic farm in the country where just a couple of weeks ago the annual lamb sale was held - 3,000 lambs! If you come on one of the lambing or shearing events at the farm you will meet Jan, but the wearing of non Welsh soccer or rugby shirts on these visits is not advisable - Jan may ask you to volunteer to help clear up something very valuable on an organic farm, organic manure!


Market Trolley

Which just leaves me, John the handyman/tasgmon. I get to play with some big boys toys in the workshop. Currently I am building a new Market style stall for the front of the shop to display bird feeders and maybe a couple of nest boxes as well.  Other projects I have worked on include equipping the new workshop, shop fitting, new signs for the shop, recreating the nest box trail, helping build the new playground and cutting hundreds of bug hotels for Jan to give out to our younger visitors. The bug hotels are a great example of re-use and recycling. On the farm they harvest hay into big bales wrapped in plastic (you can see them on most farms these days) – then we take the heavy duty cardboard or plastic inner tubes from the rolls of plastic and cut them into roughly 150 mm (six inch) lengths ready for our young visitors to fill them with fir cones/twigs/leaves etc. to make their very own bug hotel to take home to a sheltered spot in the garden and watch the bugs take up residence.

As I said at the start it's people that help the RSPB give nature a home and give Lake Vyrnwy visitors a great experience. We are always open to new volunteers in whatever role you fancy – spend a few hours or a whole day helping in the office, helping in the shop, on the farm or in the workshop or staying at the Lake Vyrnwy volunteer accommodation for one or two weeks– why not give it a try and have some fun with the Vyrnwy volunteers.

John the Handyman/Tasgmon

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