Wildlife volunteering on the RSPCA frontline


The RSPCA’s 4 wildlife centres provide many interesting and challenging volunteer roles as they strive to rehabilitate and release the mass of wildlife that arrives on their doorsteps each year.

Hedgehog (RSPCA)
Hedgehog (RSPCA)

However, despite nearly 52% of all Inspectorate call outs being for wildlife, the Society in all of its 192 year history had never involved volunteers in the work of our Inspectorate. Working directly with the Inspectorate Health and Safety specialist team plus many other stakeholders across the Society, a volunteer role was piloted that would help reduce the amount of time our officers spend on driving to collect sick, injured or orphaned birds in boxes.

In its first full year back in 2016, 22 volunteers were recruited in 10 of our Inspectorate group areas. After a selective recruitment process, a day’s face to face classroom training and shadowing members of the Inspectorate, the new recruits were ready to face the public. Initially, the role involved collecting birds up to the size of a gull that were already confined and taking them to vets and RSPCA approved wildlife centres for treatment, small mammals - rabbits and mice were soon added. Immediately, this had an impact on the groups in which the volunteers were based as it started to save driving time for Field staff enabling them to spend time on more complex incidents and cases. In the first six months WCVs carried out 241 collections saving over 400 hours of Inspectorate time.

In 2017 a wider roll-out across nearly all of our Inspectorate groups allowed us to test the concept and to further develop the role and the training. The role works by the volunteer giving their availability on a weekly basis and suitable incidents are tasked to them by our National Control Centre.

Peregrine Falcon chick released back to Fort Dunlop (RSPCA)
Peregrine Falcon chick released back to Fort Dunlop (RSPCA)

By the end of 2018 we had recruited over 100 Wildlife Casualty Volunteers (WCVs). Together they handled over 2000 incidents from collecting injured garden birds to delivering a fox trap. Particularly helpful is the readiness of WCVs to help with release or return of rehabilitated wildlife. In mid June 2017 a Peregrine chick was found collapsed at the bottom of Fort Dunlop - the famous Birmingham landmark where Peregrines have been successfully nesting for many years. The chick was ready to be released after a week of rehabilitation at our Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre and, two Birmingham based WCVs transported the chick back to the site. The WCVs met a British Trust for Ornithology ringer who returned the chick back to the nest at the top of the building. The parents not only accepted their chick back but soon started feeding.

In the three years the project has been running we have seen a number of our WCVs apply successfully for roles in our Inspectorate. One of these is Justin Disdale from Cambridgeshire.

Coot rescued by a WCV (RSPCA)
Coot rescued by a WCV (RSPCA)

Justin was in full-time employment but during his spare time helped out when he could as a WCV. Like all new WCVs he did his initial level training which enabled him to collect injured or sick birds up to the size of a gull and mammals up to the size of a rabbit. Part of the training involved spending a day at East Winch Wildlife Centre and gaining some hands on experience helping out with the essential day to day tasks. Within a short period of being out on the road he saw for himself what a difference the volunteers were making in both freeing up the time of the inspectorate to enable them to carry out their duties more effectively plus improving survival rates of our tasked animals by getting to the incidents quicker.

Justin really wanted to get more involved and his enthusiasm was recognised and rewarded with the chance of more training. Early in 2018 he was given the opportunity of taking part in water awareness and lifejacket training. He says that jumping into Rutland Water on a cold April day was quite an experience and very worthwhile as completing this training meant that he could do swan releases which is a quite magical and rewarding experience.

Most of the volunteers in Justin’s group had training to be able to transport larger species too so were able to handle an even more diverse range of animals.

Collared dove (RSPCA)
Collared dove (RSPCA)

The volunteers became a close knit group working as part of the team and really being made to feel an important part of the Society. The knowledge Justin gained from the Inspectorate and vets at East Winch meant that he was well equipped to apply for an apprentice Animal Collection Officer role within the Society and started his new role in January 2019.

Justin sums it up brilliantly. “Being a Wildlife Casualty Volunteer is a great role. If you have an interest in wildlife it gives you the opportunity to get very close to animals and birds that you may have rarely seen and if so from a distance. You quickly gain knowledge about the creatures and their injuries from inspectors and vets, and if there is a chance that an animal can be saved, then transporting them to a wildlife centre for rehabilitation is so rewarding topped only by getting involved with the releases. As well as this you are constantly reminded and thanked by the Inspectorate for the difference you are making to their role, freeing them up to carry out their important work of investigating animal cruelty and abuse, being involved with animal rescues along with a whole host of other duties”.

Watch Justin Disdale describe what it’s like being a WCV volunteer

There will a recruitment campaign taking place shortly for new WCVs in areas across England and Wales so please keep an eye out on the RSPCA website:
from end of January 2019.

First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in association with the Woodland Trust on 11 February 2019

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