I never considered myself an educator, it wasn’t a career path that I ever believed would suit me, nor did I feel that I knew enough to truly have an impact on someone else’s learning curve. But that changed the day I found a hideously unnerving dragonfly nymph whilst pond dipping on a lazy Tuesday afternoon. Since then I have not only been aching to tell others about the countless array of life that graces our special corner of the world, but I have also been obsessed with the mind boggling number of different species that hold together the amazing experience that is Sandwell Valley. Before this internship began, I’d never even seen a newt or a toad and my experiences with insects were not happy memories. But that didn’t last long, within my first month I had newts wee in my hand, two damselflies made the sweet act of love on my shoulder and a ridiculous number of horseflies tried to slowly murder me.
I have benefited from being surrounded by so many knowledgeable people; many of them being passionate naturalists who have trained themselves to a level of professional understanding about their favourite creatures. Not only that, but I have had access to a site that boasts levels of biodiversity that never ceases to amaze me. I was taught how to use telescopes for bird watching, micro-scopes for creepy crawlies and how to utilize my own sense of smell for identifying different plants in spring. I developed my own teaching style that helped me gain confidence in public speaking and enabled me to take control of a noisy classroom. The RSPB gave me heaps of training in handling wildlife enquiries, working with young people and identifying invertebrates, the opportunities to learn in this internship are as endless as you want them to be. I spent a good deal of time on my own out on the wetland, armed with nothing more than a sweep net and a sense of curiosity, trying to capture a glimpse of a secret world that I had heard so much about. Spotting voles and mice in our meadow refugias has been one of the many special moments of my time at Sandwell. Most significantly of all, you are provided with a sense of space, to find out what captures your heart and mind and what intrigues your soul.
There have been too many highlights to pick just a few to mention here, but one of the coolest things that ever happened to me, was finding a Pale Tussock Moth caterpillar clinging to an oak leaf in our meadow. He is the weirdest looking friend I have ever had (If you don’t know what one looks like, I urge you to Google it right now!) and he’s currently overwintering inside a jam jar at the reserve. I had no idea that something so conventionally ugly could be so intrinsically beautiful. Or perhaps my favourite memory is the moment that I’ve witnessed 1000 times by now, of a child’s face completely caught up in the rapture and wonder that surrounds them, when they realise just how mysterious and magical nature is and that they are just another piece of it.
Pale Tussock Moth, Photo Credit: Graham Vernon
If you, like me, are yearning to learn, to understand and to help our planet, then this is the path for you, don’t be afraid to just ride the wave and follow your heart. I thought I’d finish this blog with a quote I read in a book not too long ago, which for me symbolizes everything that my time with the RSPB represents.
‘I came late to the love of birds. For years I saw them only as a tremor at the edge of vision. They know suffering and joy in simple states not possible for us. Their lives quicken and warm to a pulse our hearts can never reach. They race to oblivion’. from The Peregrine by J.A. Baker
Using a sweep net to catch and identify insects on the reserve