Volunteering with The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust by James Scheck

This Volunteers Week we are celebrating our volunteers through a collection of blogs.

First up, James is here to tell you all about his path to volunteering with Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and his experiences so far.

Hello, my name is James and I have lived in the Trent Valley area of South Derbyshire for the last 35 years. Since childhood I have always had an interest in wildlife and natural history and in particular bird watching. This hobby was encouraged by my parents who enrolled me into the Young Ornithologists Club at an early age.  I subsequently joined the RSPB and the BTO and helped with bird monitoring and wildfowl counts in winter months. Moving to South Derbyshire I soon realised that the Trent Valley and Derbyshire in general had much to offer the enthusiastic naturalist.  I joined the DWT and DOS.  Willington gravel pits became my site of choice simply by being on my doorstep and I spent as much time there as a young family, work commitments and a very understanding wife would allow. About 4 years ago I had the chance to retire early, and with the children having flown the nest I found I had more time in which to indulge my interests.

About that time the DWT had taken a more proactive interest in managing the reserve and I offered to become a volunteer in the hope of contributing to the practical maintenance and running of the reserve. I was fortunate to meet a number of like-minded people and we generally meet up a couple of times a month, come rain or shine, to cut back willow in the reedbeds, keep the paths clear, pull up the all pervasive Himalayan Balsam and do any other running repairs to platforms, boardwalks or hides as necessary. The highlight of the day of course, is when we all stop to have our packed lunch and have a chat and catch up. It has been known for some of us to call at The Boot at the end of the day for a glass of ale on the way home!

Being a volunteer has also given me the opportunity to work on other reserves in the area, and with weekly work parties somewhere in the Trent Valley region there are always new places to visit and new people to meet.

One of the issues we have experienced at Willington is the presence of mink and the impact they have had on ground nesting birds.  I attended a training course at the DWT headquarters on methods of how to deal with them, and have been assisting Steve with this task, so far with limited success – but watch out mink!

Willington has a lot to offer, particularly from a bird watching point of view.  Being located as it is in the corridor of the Trent valley, it’s a great stopping off point for passing and migratory birds.  Over the years it has seen many unusual birds including hen harrier, red footed falcon, osprey, spoonbill and roseate terns. If you’re lucky you might see a kingfisher dart by or get a glimpse of a bittern as it skulks in the reedbeds. Winter brings a selection of wildfowl and in the summer the lane is alive with warblers.

I know that the Trust has some impressive plans for Willington, not least the beaver introduction scheme later this year, the creation of a circular footpath around the reserve to include a bridge over Egginton brook and a visitor centre.  I feel that as a volunteer I have contributed in a small way with the maintenance and upkeep and in return reap the rewards of being able to spend a tranquil hour or two with my binoculars and camera enjoying everything the reserve has to offer.

James Schek