Keeping fit with wildlife

Animal tracking, walking free through a puddle, Schools' Holiday Club, RSPB Rye Meads, May 2013

Animal tracking, walking free through a puddle, Schools' Holiday Club, RSPB Rye Meads, May 2013 - Credit: Rahul Thanki (

Aggie Rothon from the RSPB discovers a cost-free alternative to the gym

RSPB - Wildlife volunteering

RSPB - Wildlife volunteering - Credit: Archant

A few years back I was a keen gym member. I would visit every night to run, row and cycle, glued to the television screens in front of the machines.

RSPB - family walking

RSPB - family walking - Credit: Archant

Then I became a mother and since then simply haven’t had the time – or perhaps the inclination – to get back into the gym. I suppose I should be dismayed at my lack of interest, but I have never felt more comfortable. That’s because I’ve realised there is an alternative way to keep fit – and best of all it involves being outdoors.

I started walking my local area after the arrival of my first child. It’s easy to get stuck indoors when you have a newborn, but I was determined this wouldn’t happen to me. So I strapped on the baby sling, wrapped my little boy up warm and set off on daily adventures in to the countryside. I never looked back and still walk a good few miles every day come rain or shine – the addition of a little dog to the family ensures that even in the worst weather I never shirk my walking responsibilities.

What’s more, as a lover of wildlife, I have been thrilled to have seen more of nature in the past few years out walking than I ever did when studying zoology at university. Exploring the lanes, fields and footpaths has uncovered, season-by season, unique and intriguing landscapes that are never the same two days in a row.

In winter, chattering flocks of fieldfares crowd bushes laden with berries, while swans parade the winter wheat. Springtime brings early morning walks filled with birdsong and the fresh greens of newly budding trees. In summer bright wildflowers pepper the hedgerows, dragonflies hum and bees buzz. Then autumn comes round again and the drifts of leaves pile high, creating the perfect homes for hibernating creatures. All this wildlife has made these countryside jaunts my favourite year-round pastime.

Best of all, there are ways to keep fit and help nature at the same time as many nature reserves run volunteer groups you can join. These groups of like-minded people join a reserve warden or wardens for a day to take on tasks such as reed raking, hedge planting or pond clearing. Many attendees have reported feeling muscles they never knew they had after a good work-out as a conservation volunteer.

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There are plenty of tasks that you can take on by gardening for wildlife too. This time of year is all about preparing for the growing season. Vegetable beds need forking over, flower borders will benefit from a good layer of mulch and shrubs that flower on new growth such as dogwood and honeysuckle need to be pruned.

So instead of joining a gym choose the cost-free alternative. Step outside and stride out, start gardening with renewed vigour or join a volunteer conservation group. Not only will you feel better for it but the wildlife will thank you for it!

This is a great time to put up nest boxes around the garden in preparation for the breeding season. Some garden birds can start looking for suitable nesting places as early as January or February.

This can be a lean time for birds, especially if we start seeing more frosts or even snow. Bird feeders become essential to see many species through cold days and nights. Make sure to get rid of any stale food or rain-soaked crumbs at the bottom of feeders, then fill them with as wide a range of food types as you can – whole peanuts, sunflower seeds and nyjer seed in the feeders, non-netted fat balls hung on the bird table and fresh, ice-free water in the bird bath. There is nothing more refreshing than taking half an hour on a dusky weekend to step outside, fill up the feeders and feel the wind on your face. Not only that but you can then huddle up on the sofa at the end of the day and watch a whole host of garden birds enjoying the fruits of your labour.

Get stuck in

The RSPB has almost 18,000 volunteers from all walks of life and roles can be tailored to your skills, interests and circumstances.

You don’t have to be an RSPB member to volunteer and you certainly don’t have to be a bird expert. There are many ways you can get involved close to home, in Suffolk, outdoors or indoors at nature reserves.

You can give as much or as little time as you like and who knows – as well as meeting new peple you could learn some new skills, improve your CV, see and help wildlife, and get fit.

If you have some free time during the week you could join RSPB Minsmere’s habitat management work party, which meets one Thursday in the month (9.30am start) at the reserve until November 27. It’s free to join in but booking is essential.

The work party manages different habitats each month, so you get to see new parts of the reserve. All necessary tools are provided (along with hot drinks!) and you can stay as long as you wish.

For full information and dates go to