By Peter Burton
Sussex Wildlife Trust Volunteer
Working as a volunteer can be a rewarding experience, especially if your volunteering takes you to Woods Mill, the headquarters of the Sussex Wildlife Trust.
I started there in August 2003 after encouragement and some persuasion (i.e. arm twisting) from two friends, Gordon from Shoreham and Maurizio from Steyning.They both had been working at Woods Mill for some time.
But the place first entered my consciousness in the early 1970s when Charlie Coleman was Warden.Rosemary and I used to take our four children there to wear them out on the Nature Trail. We also enjoyed the occasional Art Exhibition and pre-Christmas sales.Later on we were able to buy flour, ground on the premises from the then working “overshot” water mill.
Since returning as part of the volunteer team I have witnessed some changes.In the late autumn of last year (2003) contractors were busy creating a new pathway to allow wheelchair uses clear access around the whole area.Walking the path can take anything from 30-90 minutes depending on how much you want to see and how fast he or she wants to travel. The route takes the traveller through a mixture of scenery from woodland through overhanging trees, across wooden bridges to lovely views of the lake, and if you are very quiet, and lucky, you might get a brief glimpse of the kingfisher as it skims across the water.
At this time of the year, with the leaves having fallen from the trees, views are very open and exposed.But, as winter turns into spring, new growth will appear and this will offer the quiet visitor a number of surprises as they turn a bend and disturb a heron or possibly a deer.
The Nature Trail, which is less than a mile, is open seven days a week.
There are two aspects to my work as a volunteer. On Wednesdays I join the conservation group, otherwise known as “The Hit Squad”; when usually about six of us, including Mark, a West Sussex Reserves Officer, travel by Land Rover to one of 36 special reserves in Sussex.
There are three reserve officers, each responsible for a section of the county.Mark the West, Henfield to Goodwood, Alice the East, Henfield to Hastings, and Steve slap bang in the middle, this actually includes Woods Mill which as well as being the headquarters of the Sussex Wildlife Trust is also a major education centre with its own purpose built classroom to provide opportunities of various kinds for teachers and children alike.
On Fridays I work with a small group, under Steve’s direction, on general maintenance, at Woods Mill itself.Some days the reserve is actually crawling with wildlife, both human and animal! Pond dipping, butterfly chasing, fungi hunting are just three of the attractions.We volunteers do anything from reed and hedge cutting, and gutter clearance, to bench labelling, leaf sweeping – a very skilful art taught to me by Steve on Malling Down near Lewes one cold December afternoon – and of course tea drinking.
So what then is the attraction of volunteering at Woods Mill?What is it that actually gets me out of bed at 7.30am on what are often cold, wet Wednesday or Friday mornings.Nothing more than good company, good conversation, interesting locations, doughnuts (on a Wednesday!) and the ever hopeful possibility of seeing the blue flash of the kingfisher skimming across the lake.It is quite simply one of the best things I have done since retiring.