Volunteering at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

, 14 August 2017
Volunteering at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

Among our volunteers are some students who need to gain experience, discover more about their environment and see if conservation is for them. Here one of them describes their time with us...

I began volunteering at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve when I was studying a Biology degree at the University of Brighton. I had first visited the reserve during a college trip a couple of years previously and fell in love with the place and the work that Sussex Wildlife Trust does; the beautiful wildlife and scenery was captivating. So when the university asked us to undertake a volunteering placement, I had no doubts as to where I wanted to go.

I remember on my first day I was so nervous, but the staff and volunteers put me at ease straight away, welcoming me to their team with an infectious enthusiasm.

Over the years that I have volunteered, I have participated in a range of activities on the reserve, including visitor surveys, assisting with events and educational activities, and various practical conservation tasks.

Because of my involvement with the educational work of the reserve, I was offered the chance to attend a ‘Wild Beach’ training course which was brilliant. I spent two days exploring rock pool habitats and learning about the different animals inhabiting them. I couldn’t believe my luck when rock pool habitats was the topic of one of my undergraduate modules! The training proved to be extremely helpful for my studies.

In addition to helping at some of the holiday events, I was a regular volunteer at both Nature Tots sessions and the Wild Woodland Club – Forest School inspired events where children can play and make friends outdoors. It was wonderful to see the children inspired every session, whether they were collecting wood for fire building, using fire steels to light the fire, playing ‘hide the bird’ or building shelters. The children made me laugh and were examples of how important it is for children to enjoy being outdoors. I looked forward to woodland club every month, as it didn’t feel like work.

Once I had become a regular volunteer I had the opportunity to lead some groups of students on their school visits, which was an amazing addition to my CV. One of the best moments was when I spotted a young girl trying to hide a crab she had found, so I had to break the news to her that she needed to put it back. I remember clearly she dropped her head and knelt down, placing the crab gently back onto the sand. As she let it go I heard her whisper “bye bye crab, I love you”. It was the most wonderful thing I have ever seen in all my time volunteering, because it was exactly what I want to achieve in conservation - helping to ensure that our future generations have a love and appreciation for wildlife.

Volunteering has also introduced me to a new hobby - bird watching. Once I had been shown the birds at Rye Harbour, I wasted no time in getting my own pair of binoculars. I really enjoyed helping visitors to identify different bird species when sitting in the bird hides (although they often knew more than me!) I loved hearing the visitors stories and hearing their excitement when describing the birds they had seen that day and how they ‘ooed’ and ‘aahed’ when a baby Avocet would run past.

For my final year of university we were required to undertake an 8,000 word research project, and I knew I wanted to conduct my project at the reserve. I chose to research how the Pea Weevil (Bruchus loti) affected the seed germination of wild Sea Pea (Lathyrus japonicus). I spent the majority of the summer of 2016 walking across the coast marking the GPS coordinates of the plant, measuring their sizes and collecting leaves and seed pods. I then worked in the laboratory looking for evidence of weevils on the seeds, which can be identified by an ‘exit hole’ that is left after the weevil has burrowed out of the seed. I measured the length, width, depth and weight of the seeds (all 509 of them) and placed them onto agar plates under a heat lamp so they would germinate, with measurements of their germination taken after 30 days.

I really enjoyed this project; I had the opportunity to discuss what I was doing with visitors, and I learned so much about the surrounding wildlife. Having the chance to conduct work for the reserve was a brilliant experience, and was made easy by the support I was given by all the staff and volunteers of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. I gained a First for the finished project, and was really pleased with the results I had obtained.

My time at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve contributed to me being awarded The Michael Foster Law Prize for Outstanding Student Volunteering, which was given to me when I graduated in July with a First Class Honours Degree in Biology. Volunteering for the Sussex Wildlife Trust through Rye Harbour Nature Reserve has been the most empowering and enjoyable volunteering experience I have ever had. I learned so much about British wildlife and conservation, and have gained so many transferable skills to boost my career prospects. The staff at the reserve have supported me throughout my studies, helping to build up my confidence and develop my environmental conservation skills. I have loved every second of my volunteering, and I hope to always be a part of the beautiful reserve.

by Hannah Philp