From my office window I can see a tall, slim flag iris extending above the other foliage in our wildlife garden. A small bud of sunshine yellow sits on top of its willowy stem, like the flame of a tapered candle. Shortly, the flower will open and the resplendent bloom of the iris will become the crowning glory of the garden.
Now that the weather is warmer, other plants are beginning to produce flowers. Blue forget-me-nots, pink campions and white oxe eye daisies with their creamy yellow middles all pepper the garden with colour. Soon they will be joined by feverfew, bryony and the interestingly named common mouse-ear and bristly ox-tongue.
The success of the garden is down to the sturdy efforts of some of our gallant volunteers turning an overgrown area of brambles and nettles into a welcome retreat for wildlife. But volunteers do more here than just getting their hands dirty. Thanks to an array of helpers, our cafe is filled with the welcome aroma of baking as scones, cakes and Cornish pasties fill hungry tummies. In winter, bowls of steaming soup are the order of the day but at this time of year our volunteers are more likely to be serving up delicious ice cream floats or frothy milkshakes.
In the shop, other helpers are busy serving customers, assisting with a stock take or counting in the weekly deliveries. Most of our volunteers don’t have any retail experience but have taken to the busy schedule here and really enjoy the variety that a day in the shop can bring. Those with a little birding knowledge step up to the information desk and confidently explain the day’s wildlife sightings to newly arrived visitors. They are wonderful ambassadors for the RSPB and connect well with our varied audience, handing out maps, wildlife guides or family adventure packs to budding wildlife explorers.
A mixture of roles behind the scenes unfurl and are filled by willing and capable volunteers, young and old. From blogging on social media to counting wildlife species out on the reserve, there are a variety of tasks which don’t require face to face contact with our visitors. We know that not everyone wants to be out front and as one of my more elderly volunteers put it “I come here to be anonymous”. Some people just prefer to be busy in the background and at RSPB Titchwell Marsh they certainly are.
From my time here I’ve learned that people volunteer for all sorts of reasons. For some, it adds routine to their week for others it represents an opportunity to socialise and talk to someone other than the cat. Two of our volunteers have found love here, some have found employment and for one or two it’s just a reason to get up and get dressed. Our volunteers come from all walks of life and backgrounds; from 15 to 92 they give their time and talents freely coming together with a common purpose. Whether that is to bake the best scones along the north Norfolk coast, to build a bug hotel out of pallets or just to turn up and have a great day with friends and colleagues.....it doesn’t really matter to me.
I’m very grateful that I can enjoy the fruits of their labours and so I’m off to eat a large slice of tiffin in a quiet part of the wildlife garden where I can watch the birds gather on a bird feeder that’s just been filled by one of our volunteers.