Visiting and Volunteering

by jacobbhunter

A hoverfly on Sisyrinchium flower at an RSPB Garden.

Some of us have been talking recently about visiting interesting places and doing some environmentally-oriented volunteering. Although I’m not an expert on either subject, I do think that there’s little more inspirational than people actually DOING SOMETHING GOOD, and being one of those people is great fun. Hence, I thought I would take a moment to pass on my experience of these things and maybe in the process encourage others near and far to share their favourite green spaces and fun places.

So, I’m going to start by talking about my own voluntary work, because it’s what I know best.

I was an intern with the RSPB at the Flatford Wildlife Garden for seven months until February this year. The RSPB aims to be “nature’s voice” and they do lots of really interesting conservation, education and lobbying work.  Although my internship (like all RSPB internships) was unpaid, I wanted to do something different, and although it wasn’t residential like most RSPB internships, I was able to live with a relative so it wasn’t too cripplingly costly.  As the garden’s intern I did lots of face-to-face work talking to visitors, as well as being involved with the more practical side of things. By being an intern I was able to contribute to the garden and the other local reserves in a more consistent way than would be possible for a more sporadic volunteer, and I also had opportunities to receive training including an RHS horticulture course, and a brushcutter certificate. Overall, I feel I learnt a lot while gaining some skills and confidence, and it was a great opportunity to understand one of the UK’s biggest environment charities.

A bit of the RSPB Flatford Wildlife Garden last year

The RSPB has loads of volunteering opportunities from odd days here and there (I’m still volunteering with the garden in this way) through to residential full-time work. Their current opportunities are here.  Oh, and if you’re interested at all in the garden I’ve been volunteering in, have a look at their blog – if you go back a few pages you might even see the odd post by me!

I’ve talked about the RSPB because it’s what I know but of course there are lots of other organisations doing good work, some of which is along similar lines. The ones that spring to mind are The Wildlife Trusts (Essex and Suffolk) and the BTCV both of which do practical volunteering not too far from Colchester. The National Trust also sometimes has interesting projects on the go.

Nationally there’s a healthy listing of jobs and volunteering opportunities on the Countryside Jobs Service,  and more general NGO opportunities on CharityJOB general volunteering opportunities can be found at Do-it. On the political side there’s w4mp.

I’d also like to share a few of my favourite museums and outdoor places (plus a few others) – I hope you don’t mind the link-soup!

The Herb Garden at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich. Photograph licensed from Oxymoron via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons 2.0.

In Colchester there is the small Natural History Museum that’s worth popping into if you’ve not been, though the collection isn’t large, and the town is well endowed with art thanks to firstsite (which includes a collection from the UoE’s ESCALA) and the minories. The Ipswich Museum always got me fairly excited as a kid, and once you’re there you must walk up and visit Christchurch Mansion in the lovely park – both are on my list of places to go soon, as I’ve not been in a good long while, and as they’re free there’s no excuse!

More broadly we are fortunate to have access to several estuaries with sites of great importance to wading bird populations (particularly the Stour, Orwell) and the area is peppered with nature reserves of various kinds. Essex Wildlife Trust has a handy map of theirs and on the estuary front, I suppose I would suggest finding a way of getting there, and then going where your heart and feet take you. Manningtree rail station is within easy walking distance of good sites for watching birds (if the tide is right) but I suspect the surroundings might otherwise not inspire. I’m quite fond of Wrabness, also on the Stour and with a rail station. There are both RSPB and Essex Wildlife Trust reserves around here including some beautiful marsh and woodland.

Copperas Bay on the Stour by John Lemay, licensed via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons 2.0.

I know some of you have visited Cambridge and seen the generally excellent museums there, but there are others in many UK cities that are worth a day out. The ones I know best are in London (The Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, British Museum, Wellcome Collection, etc.) and Oxford which though smaller than their London counterparts are steeped in just as much history and often more oriented towards the adult visitor (see here).

There are also countless beautiful, innovative, and worthwhile gardens and parks across the UK, though it may be worth saving a special trip for the warmer parts of the year. Cambridge has a lovely botanic garden, Oxford a smaller one  which is the oldest in Britain. London is blessed with the fabulous Kew Gardens (and several Royal Parks) and then there are the RHS gardens and innumerable others.

Inside Part of Kew’s Palm House. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

After reading all that, it must surely be time for a walk!