Eat, sleep, breathe ecology: why I volunteer on top of a full time job

A personal viewpoint.

Common lizard Zootoca vivipara seen scrambling up a tree during a walkover survey (Author)

Like most people in the Ecology sector, I've done my fair share of volunteering. Long before I took the plunge into the world of consultancy, I volunteered at a wildlife hospital, at Kew Gardens, at TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network) and I’ve taken part in various voluntary animal research behaviour projects.

Juvenile slow worm Anguis fragilis found under a mat during a reptile survey (Author)

Following completion of a masters degree in Conservation, I successfully landed my first role as an Assistant Ecologist and I thought my volunteering days were behind me. However, consultancy work in the UK is relatively restricted as to the species you can survey and I soon found myself volunteering on a local Toad Patrol, at a site that I later went on to co-lead. Anyone who's been involved with Toad Patrol will know how brilliant it can be and how intoxicating that feeling is of having a bucket of toads that you saved! As much as I loved the role, it's very time consuming (every night for a good few weeks) and can be frustrating when volunteers you rely on consistently let you down at the last minute. There were more than a few nights when I was out on the dark roads by myself and found myself questioning whether I was safe and whether it was worth the risk. Unfortunately I had to move away from the area, and away from any local toad patrols, so my toad patrol days are over for now, but as soon as the opportunity arises and I find myself living near to a patrol, I'll be back out there.

Male common toad Bufo bufo latched onto the much larger female on the way to the breeding pond (Author)

I ended up leaving consultancy and I currently have a role that focuses on botany and habitat creation. Unfortunately this means that I no longer get to do some of my favourite surveys, such as Great Crested Newt (GCN) and Hazel Dormouse and I've found myself volunteering again. I currently volunteer for my local Amphibian and Reptile Group, carrying out reptile surveys once a month at a site 30 minutes away, and I hope to have the chance to do GCN surveys if the opportunity arises. I also volunteer for my local Wildlife Trust at a site 20 minutes away, carrying out dormouse surveys and habitat management. The site is suffering from a lack of management and I'm hopeful that my efforts will see an increase in the dormouse population.

Bucket full of common toads collected during toad patrol and safely released near the breeding pond (Author)

On top of a full-time job, there are times when I question why I do it, and with the cost of living going through the roof, the petrol money could be useful elsewhere. However, the fact of the matter is that I love nature and I'm so grateful that I have the skills and the experience to get to do these surveys. Like most ecologists I speak to these days, my mental health has taken a knock and working in nature has proven time and time again to pick me up - it's the best therapy I know of and it's (more or less) free! It also feels good to be helping, in a tiny way, towards the conservation of nature. With the state of nature in the UK being what it is, if I can do anything to help my local dormouse/reptile/amphibian population, I will!

If you’d like to get involved in some volunteering check out the links below:

Toad patrol from Froglife
Amphibian and Reptile Groups UK
Wildlife Trust
Butterfly Conservation

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Posted On: 10/01/2024

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