Volunteering at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust

Blue Tit Photo: Adam Jones

Blue Tit Photo: Adam Jones - Credit: Adam Jones

Volunteer Gary Atkins is celebrating 10 years volunteering at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, here he writes about his experience working together with The Trust.

Goldfinch Photo: Fergus Gill 2020Vision

Goldfinch Photo: Fergus Gill 2020Vision - Credit: Archant

Far from being the slow downhill path that some people fear retirement to be, I viewed it as a chance to do more of those things I really enjoy doing - and over the past decade that's grown into a fairly lengthy list, but right up there at the top is getting out and about to explore our county and the exciting wildlife its hills, fields and valleys have to offer.

Soon after leaving Rolls-Royce in 2008 I investigated local volunteering opportunities and I looked at what I could do to support the wildlife on my doorstep.

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust was a clear opportunity and, after deciding green fingers and practical work was not my forte, I offered to monitor wildlife and undertook my first survey in October 2009 when I began to get to know the footpaths and nooks and crannies of Rose End Meadows.

Over the succeeding ten years I have monitored two reserves on a monthly basis. Initially, the other reserve I visited was Hopton Quarry but, as my main strength was identifying birds and mammals, I soon swapped with some volunteers far more proficient than I with the flora and butterflies that proliferate at the isolated quarry.

Instead I was asked to take a look at Gang Mine, at the top of Cromford Hill, as it had not been monitored regularly for some time. I was glad to do so as it's a different type of terrain and topography, even though only the gaping maw of Dene Quarry separates it from Rose End, positioned half-way down Cromford Hill. That was over eight years ago.

I've now completed almost 250 surveys and I never begin a visit without a frisson of excitement at the prospect of encountering something unusual. Just what will I see today? And, of course, eight times out of ten I record pretty much what I'd expect to see... but just sometimes there's a real surprise in store - such as the Ring Ouzel that dropped into Gang Mine one autumn day five years ago.

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I keep an eye on the weather and try to choose the best days, and set off reasonably early - although an extra half-hour in bed sometimes beckons! In the spring and summer arriving too early means I miss the butterflies that take time to warm up and get on the wing; too late and the birds have finished their early primary feeding and go quiet, so 8.30-10.30am is the sort of time I aim for.

In autumn and winter butterflies are much scarcer, so birds and mammals are again my chief focus, and since the sun is much later to emerge I can stick to a similar timeframe. I tend not to visit in the afternoons as most things have quietened down after the initial feeding frenzy.

Bird species recorded at Gang Mine total 66, 61 at Rose End, with a consolidated total at both of 72. The most species seen during a single visit was 28, at Rose End, which typically has more birds per visit than Gang Mine. The most prolific bird at either reserve is Woodpigeon (1,735 to date at Rose End, 933 at Gang Mine), followed by Jackdaw, Blue Tit, Goldfinch and Great Tit.

If it wasn't already, the natural world has certainly become a major part of my life in retirement. It gets in your blood.

For more information about becoming a volunteer: www.derbyshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/support/volunteer

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