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20 Apr 2020

Through the eyes of: a conservation volunteer at St Abb’s Head NNR

Written by Margaret Renstead, Volunteer, St Abb’s Head NNR
A woman feeds vegetables to two woolly sheep in a grassy field. She smiles towards the camera.
Margaret whilst volunteering on Fair Isle in 1993
When Margaret first volunteered for the Trust in the 1990s, she didn’t dream she’d still be volunteering nearly 30 years later! Here she explains why she has spent so much of her precious free time volunteering for the Trust.

I’ve been volunteering with the Trust on and off for almost 30 years now. In the past it was mainly with Thistle Camps, and I got to visit some beautiful and remote Trust properties like St Kilda, Fair Isle and Mull. However, with advancing years, ‘volling’ in distant locations was becoming increasingly difficult. A few years ago, I decided to join a group of like-minded people at St Abb’s Head, which is virtually on my own doorstep. Joining this great wee band of six ‘more mature’ volunteers, dare I even say ‘unique group’, has definitely been one of my better decisions in life.

Under the expert guidance of Liza (Senior Ranger) and Ciaran (the current Ranger), we undertake a variety of tasks on a weekly basis, weather permitting. We venture forth to tackle the joys of thistle thwacking, gorse bashing, tree planting, litter picking and filling in potholes on the road to the lighthouse (not so joyful for some). More recently, as the numbers of breeding grey seals have increased on our stretch of coastline, we’ve been helping to run a ‘Seal Watch’. We stand at a vantage point above the beach at Petticowick, and are on hand with telescopes and binoculars to help people learn about and enjoy the amazing spectacle of seals pupping and breeding on the beach below.

A woman stands with a spade in one hand, on a narrow road that leads towards a bay. By her feet is a filled-in pothole. Another spade lies beside the road in the foreground.
Margaret helps clean out the drains on the lighthouse road.

I also help to run the Nature Centre which is (usually) open between the start of April and the end of October, sharing my knowledge of the reserve we’re so lucky to live near. It can be very busy during the seabird breeding season, when people can get a daily update on what’s to be seen out on the reserve – I’ve been fortunate enough to have some interesting conversations with visitors from as far afield as the US, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland to name just a few, and of course many from much nearer home.

A woman and man stand in a grassy area beside a large stone wall. They are hammering staves into the ground to support young trees.
Margaret helps Ciaran with some tree planting.

So what do we, as volunteers, get out of it all? Firstly, satisfaction that as a like-minded group we’re doing our bit, so to speak, to care for, preserve and protect this scenic haven and its wonderful wildlife. Secondly, we welcome visitors from near and far, old and new, and promote this special spot, hoping our enthusiasm can generate the occasional membership so others can enjoy St Abb’s Head and many more of the Trust’s properties throughout Scotland. And last but by no means least, we enjoy the camaraderie within our little team and, very importantly, copious helpings of laughter, both in a working capacity and on social occasions (yes, it’s not all work you know!). Other benefits for volunteers include free admission to Trust properties plus a discount on some goods in National Trust for Scotland shops.

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