The winter I spent as a residential volunteer at Forsinard was an absolutely amazing experience. Having never worked in conservation before, I was enthusiastic but unsure of exactly what to expect and ever so slightly concerned about whatever extreme weather conditions lay in store for me. I needn’t have worried. The staff and other volunteers were friendly and welcoming from the outset and I soon settled in to my new role in this incredible location.
What really stood out for me as a volunteer was the sheer variety of experience on offer. Whereas placements at other reserves seemed limited to infrastructure maintenance, at Forsinard I got to try my hand at all manner of tasks, from scientific monitoring of the blanket bog and it’s wildlife to helping to restore it by removing regen and creating and installing dams in forestry drains. A particular highlight was helping the Conservation Science team to survey brown trout in the reserve’s lochs- a huge team effort that involved working in partnership with other conservation organisations.
Volunteers weren’t just limited to practical jobs either. I gained vital experience in people engagement, helping the Information Assistant to deliver events such as the fantastic red deer safari. Aside from making my placement interesting and fun, this varied experience demonstrated that volunteers at Forsinard were a key part of the team and not just an afterthought. Staff were actively planning to make sure we got the most out of our time with them and gained the skills necessary to work in conservation. I am now on an internship with the RSPB and looking forward to landing my first job. Volunteering at Forsinard was a crucial first step for me on this career path.
The location of the reserve was another obvious highlight. Having never been north of Edinburgh, the vast expanse of Flow country was as beautiful and alien a landscape as I could imagine and a godsend for someone with an interest in natural history. I had far too many amazing wildlife moments to list them all here, but some highlights included getting up close and personal with pine martens, seeing my first (three!) golden eagles and making the short journey to the coast to watch basking sharks. Being situated in northern Scotland also gave me a great base to explore the highlands, and staff even organised volunteer exchanges with other reserves such as Abernethy and Insh Marshes.
I don’t hesitate to recommend volunteering at Forsinard to anyone with an interest in conservation and a desire to explore an incredible part of the UK. I gained so much experience working as part of a tight-knit team, made some great friends and have stories that will last me the rest of my life.