The RSPB: Take a holiday with the birds

PUBLISHED: 16:26 30 November 2010 | UPDATED: 17:59 20 February 2013

The RSPB: Take a holiday with the birds

The RSPB: Take a holiday with the birds

RSPB volunteer Laura Giles recommends a holiday with a difference... with the birds

Take flight

RSPB volunteer Laura Giles recommends a holiday with a difference with the birds

The halcyon days of summer have drawn to a close and autumns days of mists and mellow fruitfulness take us into winter, so our thoughts often turn to warm memories of summer holidays that now seem far away.

I spent this years summer holiday working. Always one to get away from it all, this year I really went for it and booked myself a two-week stint as a volunteer residential warden at an RSPB nature reserve on the island of Hoy in Orkney almost as far and remote from my home in the West Midlands as I could get while remaining in the British Isles.

Hoy is a truly beautiful place, a contradictory island of exposed, remote environments as well as a place of peace and tranquillity.

Travelling by boat from Scotland, my first view of the reserve was the strikingly orange sandstone cliffs of the famous sea stack, the Old Man of Hoy, which in early summer is home to a large population of breeding puffins.

At 10,000 hectares Hoy is the RSPBs largest reserve and importantly, home to the UKs most northerly native woodland, six breeding species of birds of prey and the beautiful red-throated diver. Arriving in August, I came in time to see an abundance of sea birds (including kittiwakes, guillemots and fulmars) which swooped and glided around the cliffs.
In addition, Hoys many bays offer the opportunity to observe large populations of wading birds such as curlew, redshank and oystercatcher.

Inland, the heaths were outstanding as the wildflowers had burst into a kaleidoscope of colour. The smell of the heather, the buzz of the bees, the piratical great skuas and the flitting stonechats combined into what felt a truly wild place.

This great diversity of habitats, plants and animals is managed year round by just one residential warden. This means that Hoy, like many reserves, is dependent on help received through the volunteer residential warden scheme.

In return for accommodation in the volunteers fully-equipped, two-bed bothy, idyllically placed for watching grey and common seals and
porpoises, volunteers work a five-day week alongside the warden, on anything from surveys, tree-planting or footpath repair, to helping out at the RSPBs tent at Orkneys County Show.

Evenings and two rest days gave me ample chance to explore Orkneys other attractions, including joining the weekly meeting of Hoys very welcoming Pub Choir. A good pint of Orkney brewerys fine ale certainly helps keep vocal chords well tuned!

My time on Hoy was great fun and immensely rewarding, a great way to spend a holiday.

In fact, barely had my time there ended before I was investigating where and when I could go next.

To find out more about the residential warden scheme or other ways of volunteering for the RSPB, log on to
Nature is amazing help us keep it that way.

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