BA Geography student Miriam Hooson took time out from her studies to gain hands on experience, spending six months working and living on two RSPB reserves as part of their residential internship scheme.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds – to give it its official title – is the largest wildlife and conservation charity in Europe. This may be a surprising fact, but with over 200 nature reserves in the UK and over 1.1 million members it carries out essential research, lobbying and conservation work.
I started my internship on the cusp of its rebranding campaign – you may have seen the TV advert! With the new strap line ‘Giving Nature a Home’, the intention is to change the general perception of the organisation from a twitcher’s society to an all encompassing conservation charity – not just about birds!
My role and work
My role as ‘Visitor and Publicity Officer Intern’ focused more on people engagement than wardening and hands on reserve management. Despite this, I have vastly expanded my knowledge of conservation management, wildlife and species simply through being immersed in it everyday.
My main tasks are planning and running events, advertising and publicity, membership recruitment, welcoming and providing information and updating social media pages. Amongst these ‘typical’ tasks, however, I have covered a wide range of jobs and skills – from testing fire alarm systems, to creating new brand reserve maps!
All interns have the opportunity to experience different job roles on the reserve including wardening, education, retail and catering which have all been interesting to turn my hand to. Training is also a big part of the scheme - I have received training in Child Safety and Welfare, Marketing and Manual Handling, all in just half the usual internship time period of 12 months.
Nature on my doorstep
As the internship was residential, I had the opportunity to live on site at two reserves: RSPB Leighton Moss, Lancashire and RSPB Old Moor, South Yorkshire. This had both advantages and disadvantages – though more so the former. The biggest advantage for me was having a whole nature reserve as my back garden. I will definitely miss being able to wander and explore such beautiful surroundings any time of day or night.
I think the only downsides were the lack of personal space in my first three months (I had to share a room in quite a cosy house) and the lack of heating in the latter three due to a stubborn woodchip boiler! My housemates included the warden interns and any residential volunteers, who could be staying any time from two weeks to six months – some of these housemates will become lifelong friends!
RSPB Leighton Moss is situated in the Arnisde and Silverdale Area of Outstanding National Beauty, overlooked by Warton Crag and on the edge of Morecambe Bay – making it Lancaster’s local RSPB reserve. The reserve boasts the largest reedbed in the north of England as well as managing an area of Morecambe Bay the size of 2,500 football pitches, parts of Warton Crag and other satellite areas.
Leighton Moss shares its landscape with the subject of one of my first year field report assignments, in which we explored and discussed the geographical processes behind Arnside Knott and the surrounding area, so it was exciting to expand my natural history knowledge of this beautiful part of the county.
I had a lot of first wildlife sightings during my time at Leighton Moss including red deer, otter, marsh harriers and starling murmurations. With its recent hosting of BBC Autumn Watch its popularity has soared! Definitely worth a visit.
RSPB Old Moor in contrast is a mosaic of wetland habitats located in the Dearne Valley, a stones throw from the bustling towns of Barnsley, Sheffield and Rotherham. With seven scattered sites in total its size rivals that of Leighton Moss. Its surrounding landscape, however, couldn’t be more different. With South Yorkshire’s coal mining heritage having transformed the landscape, Old Moor is a wildlife oasis amidst the ever increasing urban sprawl. My time there was a fantastic finish to my internship. We hosted some interesting and exciting events – from fire dancing foxes to Santa’s grotto – and I have really been able to develop my talents.
The people I met through this scheme have been truly inspiring. From the wardens to the local birders, they have much to share. For anyone considering an internship or apprentice scheme I wholeheartedly recommend it.
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