A month to never ever forget!

What did I do this summer, you ask? I volunteered on Handa Island, an a-ma-zing wildlife reserve on the west coast of Scotland! For those not familiar with this small island, the following words describe it well in my opinion. Uninhabited since 1847, dramatic cliffs, important seabird and skua colonies, breathtaking views.

View on Handa Island
View on Handa Island © Anouk Schurink

How did I get there? At the beginning of 2023 I saw that the Scottish Wildlife Trust was looking for volunteers. I applied and got invited for an interview. After some interesting questions from the ranger and reserve manager I got the job!

The job meant I was volunteering on Handa Island for the whole month of June. Together with the other monthly volunteer, we travelled up north from Edinburgh. Being nervous and excited at the same time!

During the first couple of days there was a lot coming at me. Settling into the bothy and bothy life. Getting to know the ranger and the volunteers who stay for the whole season. And learning the tasks and responsibilities of being “on boats”.

Being “on boats” is the main task of monthly volunteers. This means communicating with the amazing team of ferry operators using radios. Making sure visitors get to the island and safely return to mainland. Providing introductory talks and asking what great wildlife encounters visitors had during their day. On busy days this means managing 100+ people with an on-demand limited seats rigid inflatable boat as ferry.

Puffin on Handa Island
Puffin on Handa Island © Anouk Schurink

My visitor engagement skills for sure improved whilst being on Handa Island! Great to meet people with different backgrounds and from all over the world. I still remember the enthusiasm from many visitors and gratefulness towards us, volunteers.

In June we got blessed by such exceptional weather. During many days it looked like we were on a tropical island. To complete the picture, we got treated by a pod of bottlenose dolphins! Our lovely ranger who was nearby took over and welcomed the visitors. This allowed us to board Equinox, the ferry, for a private dolphin encounter.

On days I was not “on boats” I joined the team in bird surveying, monitoring nests, and checking rat traps. It was very satisfying to build and repair boardwalk and bash bracken too. I far better understand what daily management of a nature reserve is about. And confirmed this is what I enjoy doing.

Red grouse on Handa Island
Red grouse on Handa Island © Anouk Schurink

On my days off I loved exploring the island with my camera. Staying on Handa allowed me to get to know individual birds and capture them on film. Observing their behaviour and seeing chicks grow. Things I experience much less on day visits to other nature reserves that often feel rushed.

Last but far from least, it is the people who make the experience exceptional. The team made it so easy for me to fit in and be myself. So many memorable moments we shared. A big THANK YOU!

Also, thank you Scottish Wildlife Trust for providing me this opportunity. And thank you to my employer, AbacusBio, for being so flexible. A month I will truly never ever forget!

Anouk Schurink


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What did I do this summer, you ask? I volunteered on Handa Island, an a-ma-zing wildlife reserve on the west coast of Scotland! For those not familiar with this small …

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