Jenny Stevens - My Connecting People and Nature Internship

RSPB Sandwell Valley is special. Really special. It’s a little piece of green and blue heaven wedged between Birmingham, West Bromwich and motorway. I feel super lucky to have been part of this unique place, that sees the first appearances of wonderful migrant birds in the country, and also serves a hugely diverse local community; providing them with the much needed green space and tranquility every person needs to learn and enjoy and keep us happy and healthy. My internship allowed me to learn so much and make a difference at the same time, to people and wildlife alike.

My first photo of Sandwell, July 2015
Quitting a full time job for a part time, unpaid internship in your late twenties, to do something you have absolutely no experience in, is always going to be a scary (and slightly insane) thing to do. But I can honestly say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for my career and my happiness. I had no qualifications in ecology, conservation or anything related, but I knew I wanted to follow that path, so I went for the Connecting People and Nature Internship at RSPB Sandwell Valley, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund. I feel genuinely blessed to have been a part of the wonderful team at Sandwell, the wider Midlands region and the RSPB as a whole. Never in my life have I experienced such support from colleagues, learnt so much in a short space of time, felt truly valued by a huge organisation, become friends with so many inspirational people of all ages and felt a passion so ignited. In this case, for wildlife and conservation.
The joy of getting my RSPB fleece from Ann!
When you become part of the RSPB, you’re not simply an extra, carrying out mundane tasks, you will be welcomed and encouraged and praised for your hard work by everyone around you. You’ll be given every opportunity to learn something new, enhance your existing skills and thrive at things you love doing. You’ll feel appreciated by, not only the incredible team at Sandwell, whom I now think of as some of my closest friends, but by everyone on every level of management throughout the region. I was amazed at how all of these people in positions of power across the region knew my name before they’d met me, and didn’t forget it! To have regional directors and area managers thanking you for the little things you’ve done, and telling you their door is always open, does a hell of a lot for moral and confidence. And the best bit is, they genuinely mean it.
Assisting with bird ringing
As if the staff weren’t enough, the brilliance of the 100+ volunteers at Sandwell will blow you away. Each and every person makes Sandwell what it is. Questions and queries will always be met with enthusiastic responses and explanations. As if these people weren’t already generous enough with their time and their knowledge - they want to share it with you too! The identification skills I’ve learnt from Pete Snipe, Colin and Alf, Andy Purcell; the new crochet tips and inspiration from Pat; train and boat routes through Europe and meandering pub walks through Gloucestershire from Terry; what masterpieces you really can create with a blackboard and chalk pen from Lauren; how the hard work of the Tuesday and Friday work parties will help terns and little ringed plovers and Peggy, the one legged oystercatcher. Considering nine months ago, I barely new my blue tit from my great tit, these people have worked miracles on me. And I’ve loved every minute. If you don’t already own a pair of binoculars, you’ll want some by the end of your first week. And Pete Snipe will probably sort you out.
Joining the Friday work party
If I had the opportunity to do the Connecting People and Nature Internship again twenty times, I would in a heart beat. If you’re wondering whether to take the plunge and follow your heart, I urge you to go for it. It’ll stand you in brilliant stead to find your career in conservation and introduce you to some amazing people and wildlife along the way. But more importantly, no matter what happens at the end of it, it’ll be nine months of your life you’ll have loved and learnt more than you could imagine.
Making a friend at Robin Corner, RSPB Middleton Lakes
Thank you Lucy, Alex, Cathy, Gretel, Paul, Nadia and every volunteer I’ve come in to contact with. You are truly amazing. Work with these inspirational and wonderful people if you get the opportunity. You’ll be a better person for it and end up admiring and loving them forever.
One of my wonderful goodbye gifts from the team.
Peggy by lovely Lucy.
And never forget, as a wise Community and Volunteer Development Officer once said to me, "the world is your oystercatcher".