The weather has begun to turn and there is now a definite sense of autumn in the air as I forge on with my final volunteering placement of the summer at Insh Marshes for a week. There is a definite change in pace in duties again from the ‘working holiday’ atmosphere of Loch Garten to what only be classified as ‘work’ which I must admit to do prefer as I have always enjoyed a challenge. Monday morning started with an induction with the site manager here and it was the most through and more importantly interesting one I had undergone as she took the time to really explain the management of the reserve. One of the key management techniques of the reserve renting their land to graziers to graze a variety of stock, including sheep, cattle (e.g. highland and Aberdeen angus) and ponies, as these all produce a slightly different habitat. Much of the reserve is managed naturally, as their isn’t any significant manual interference with the water table, although it is monitored daily.
The original focus of the reserve was to enhance the habitat for waders such as common sandpipers and lapwings etc. However, other species are now being focused on including the rare dark-bordered beauty moth and the aspen hoverfly which requires 4 year old bark in which to breed. The RSPB is also trying to promote the ecosystem functions of the reserve to the public in order to increase support for its protection, such as the fact that it is a natural floodplain.
Once this induction was finished, the first task was to locate goldeneye nest boxes so I and my fellow volunteer were sent out into the marsh/scrub woodland armed with a GPS and a ladder, quite an introduction to the reserve! Goldeneye ducks are different in the fact that they nest in trees and as this is a rare species in the UK (200 breeding pairs) these nest boxes are provided in hopes of increasing their numbers. These ducks are known to readily accept these boxes as there seems to be a lack of suitable nest sites in Scottish forests, perhaps because of the lack of mature trees, or the lack of black-woodpecker nest holes that are used by these birds in Europe.
It is now after the goldeneye breeding season so there was no risk in disturbing the birds. The purpose of this task was to determine whether these nest boxes had been used to checking whether there was any down or shell fragments present. In some cases there would be eggs which are likely to have been laid by immature females that don’t incubate them as they are infertile and this is called ‘egg-dumping’.
The second task was one that I was familiar with after volunteering at Forsinard Flows last year, and that was one of ragwort pulling. This is a legal requirement of landowners as it is classified as a weed and also benefits horses as they are allergic as this plant’s toxins build up overtime until it reaches a lethal level. It is not the most interesting task but, similarly to bracken cutting on Eigg, there is a sense of satisfaction on achieving it. The fact that we were sharing the field we were clearing with 9 horses, all eager to make friends, also helped boost motivational levels as well as providing entertainment (i.e. bending down to pull ragwort while a horse nibbles your back pocket in search for food).
A day full on satisfaction and interest then, which really is all you could wish for as a volunteer.