This blog is one in a series we are running about the fabulous volunteers that keep RSPB Sandwell Valley alive and thriving. We want to show off the amazing mix of people who come here from all walks of life helping save nature and inspiring others about wildlife on our reserve, and we want to encourage you to get involved too. Read on through to get a feel for what you can do, and most importantly, what you can get out of volunteering too.
Whether it's getting your hands dirty, showing a little one their first frog, or being that friendly face in our new visitor centre there's something you can have a go at.  Visit rspb.org.uk/volunteering or contact Lucy hodson: lucy.hodson@rspb.org.uk, 0121 357 7395.

I am Ruth, a volunteer ranger (VR) at RSPB Sandwell Valley. I have done this for a couple of hours, twice a week since September 2015.

I have been a member of the RSPB for many years and was familiar with the Sandwell Valley reserve as a walker, and had attended a couple of events at the temporary centre. I saw that the new centre, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, was finally being built and began to follow RSPB Sandwell Valley on Facebook and so saw the announcement of its opening. I visited and loved the new building! At the end of August 2015 I saw an invitation in the Facebook feed for volunteers and responded to it asking if I could pick up litter. Nothing else, just pick up litter.

Another volunteer – Dave – who started at the same time as me (though he works in the hide) - recently told me that I am now a very different woman to the one he met on our first day, who he described as a timid scared woman who could barely make eye contact and rarely spoke apart from ‘Good morning’.

Ruth sat upon our Storytelling Throne, carved by our Estate Worker Paul Robbins.

I love being a VR. I love picking up litter. I have a grabber and a gismo for holding big black bags open and a back pack with poo bags, secateurs, walkie talkie, rubber gloves and various other odds and ends. I learned from litter picking that my perfectionist tendencies don’t work in nature. I have learned patience; some dog poo bags are flung too far into hawthorn bushes or too high into trees for me to reach them – especially in the autumn when I began my volunteering and the undergrowth was lush and wild – but the seasons changed and nature gave me access. In the winter the stinging nettles died back and I could clear the river bank at Kingfisher Corner of all the discarded bottles and cans; I could clamber into bushes in thick boots and trousers and pounce on the poo bags as if they were treasure. I suppose they are to me. I have a huge sense of achievement when I snag a bag. The volume of bags and cans and general litter has definitely dropped. I do a two hour shift and a couple of times back in the autumn I filled three black sacks with rubbish in that time. Now it’s rarely more than one bag and sometimes it’s not even half full! I think many of those who used to litter now recognise that the RSPB is caring for this land we all share.

As well as litter picking I also check the site for damage, loss and even danger - the secateurs come in handy if I can’t coax a thorny branch or bramble to stay off a path or trail.

Common terns returning in the Spring, taken by Ruth

I have gained confidence in meeting and greeting the public through meeting and greeting their dogs; Bob and Pippa who walk around the reserve every day; the lady who ties her dogs to a railing out of the way while she watches the foxes; Buster with his wonderful two different coloured eyes and his human who drove him to the reserve every day at 11am; the elderly dog who walks so slowly his human is regularly told off by his wife for being late to pick her up (actually his human talks to EVERYONE, it’s not the dogs fault!). Then there are the humans who come without dogs; the lady who drives over from Bilston because she feels safe on our site; the Kingfisher Corner friends who meet for a smoke and drink and have begun to take not only their own litter home but have even helped clear their spot of other people’s rubbish too!; the joggers and cyclists and health walkers; the two fishermen who took up walking and offered to help me with an almost lost cause of two empty beer cans and a water bottle thrown into a particularly massive, painful (and evil) hawthorn patch. That’s just a few of the regulars.

Sandy the fox, taken by Ruth.

Then there are the creatures of the reserve; the foxes – there are at least 6 and we think there are cubs; the rats – including the brown rats which I thought were special and rare but still love despite their being common, and the young rats who bounce when they run just like squirrels; the toads under the covers in the mini beast area; and of course the birds. I discovered a love for herons from my walking but at the reserve I have discovered lapwings and oyster catchers and so many varieties of duck (but I can’t identify them correctly so please don’t ask me, but I can direct you to the hide where people can tell a pochard from a widgeon); and this year I noticed when the swifts, swallows and martins arrived back at the reserve. I NOTICED them arriving. Wow.

Back in September 2015 I was on long-term sickness leave from work with severe anxiety and depression. My job had been all about directly working with, and helping, people and yet here I was with no confidence in my social skills, so I am incredibly grateful for the joy and peace I feel being a volunteer at RSPB Sandwell Valley. I share that joy with the creatures and humans who work on or use the reserve. It has been a gift of life – not just ‘life’ but loving life – for me. I am so lucky.

I am grateful that people drop litter, don’t pick up their dogs’ poo, or pick it up and fling it; who come to the reserve for a drink or a picnic or a party and leave all the rubbish behind, behind because I get to come to the reserve twice a week for a couple of hours and pick up after them, ensure their safety, greet them warmly, spread my joy and enthusiasm and peace, in all weathers. I am so lucky. Thank you for giving me this.