In 2018 I spent five months working with a team of international and local volunteers in south west Scotland. Volunteering with the Scottish Wildlife Trust has so far been one of the greatest times of my life.
How did I end up volunteering with Scottish Wildlife Trust? That part of the story is not spectacular, I simply couldn’t find an outdoor job after finishing my studies. I heard of the chance to get funded by the EU for internships in other European countries and after talking to fellow students I applied for internships in Ireland, Scotland and Norway.
Peter, the Volunteer Development Officer at Scottish Wildlife Trust, was the first one who answered my email. I told him that I now only had three weeks left to apply for the placement, he helped me to get everything organised within time, and three short months later I started my voluntary internship.
I have been asked to write this piece to celebrate the UK’s Volunteer Week which runs from the 1 – 7 June. Writing this has brought back to me so many happy memories. If I was to describe my five months in Scotland in three words they would be beautiful, diverse and demanding.
While volunteering I visited and explored places I would never have seen as an ordinary tourist. In the August we removed Himalayan balsam,a non-native invasive plant, at the side of the river Nethan. To reach as many spots as possible we waded through the water in the gorge and came to a stunning world like no other, small waterfalls ran down the sides, tress had fallen across the river and some of the stones showed ancient ripple marks, clearly no one had entered this place for some time.
One of my favourite moments was when I was on Handa Island for a few days and helped to close the island down for the winter. While working on the path next to the cliffs, I took a break and watched a pod of dolphins in the sea. It was the first time that I had witnessed them in the wild.
I visited and worked in many different reserves, I helped build a boardwalk through a bog, mowed steep slopes in an old lime working, dug out ditches to prevent flooding and cleared paths from trees that had fallen after a storm. I worked on hot summer days and continued through the drizzle. It was an honour to be part of an international team and I learned a lot about different cultures and Scottish history.
Some tasks were demanding but I mean this in an absolutely positive way. When repairing a drystone wall you have to think a lot about where to place each stone. You need the wall to be strong enough to be able to keep the cattle out of the reserve, and it’s like a fun mix of Jenga and a giant puzzle! When you see the end result and know that you have done it right these is a sense of satisfaction and amazement, that something you have had a hand in will last for decades. With a great team and the right technique you can manage every challenge!
Karina took part in a five month European Voluntary Service placement with the Trust funded by Erasmus+. She worked across wildlife reserves in south west Scotland with Reserves Project Officer Chris Archbold.