On alternate Saturdays I have been volunteering at RSPB Fairburn Ings as a ranger. I began to do this after I submitted my PhD and took up a full time job in an office as an academic administrator. Whilst I enjoyed the job and loved the people, I felt constrained by my desk. Unlike researching a Ph.D, when you are in an office job it is generally frowned upon if you suddenly get up and go for a bracing walk around town to clear the cobwebs. So, I decided to shake my office blues by taking up something that would get me out into the fresh air, and enable me to stretch my legs and learn something new. Being a ranger has twofold responsibilities: to the birds, and to the people. The people, in a way, are the priority. Without the membership fees and donations of RSPB members, the RSPB cannot afford to maintain its sites and pay the wages of its staff. So, a big part of being a ranger is talking to members of the public, carrying out visitor services, and making sure the RSPB is doing everything it can to attract new members and keep the ones it has got. The other part of the role is making the site as welcoming to the birds as possible by filling up the bird feeders and keeping the site free of litter. RSPB has a strong team of paid staff, but it has many, many, unpaid volunteers who keep the shop ticking, recruit members and perform conservation and maintenance tasks. I absolutely love talking to the staff and volunteers – they are so friendly and made me feel like a member of a team from the outset.
Every day that I ranger at Fairburn, I have an experience that makes the day memorable. From the time when another ranger and I had to rescue an injured duck and drive him to the vets (only for the poor thing to collapse on the vet’s table), to occasion when I turned up only to find that the whole site was flooded and so visitors had to stay in the visitor centre. This Saturday, the experience that stood out to me was talking to an immensely knowledgeable man who was part of an ecological group (I cannot remember the name). He had been out collecting data and had discovered a 1mm long snail, which he suspected was a species that had been long-thought extinct in Yorkshire. He was so excited about his discovery and explained exactly how he had pinpointed the identity of the snail (the position of the opening of its shell, apparently). His enthusiasm was infectious! I also spent some time with a lady whose bird identification skills were spot on, who pointed out the redshanks on the lake. Fairburn, being a former opencast mine, is a very young site, which still bears the scars of its industrial past. However, it is testament to how quickly nature can reassert its possession of land that man has stamped his mark upon. I like the fact that we are now trying to invite and promote this repossession, but in a way that can also bring joy to human visitors.
Unfortunatley, I will have to cease my rangering duties when I move away soon – but I really hope that I can do something similar in the future.