Last Tuesday I did my first stint volunteering at Highgate Common.
Since 2009 the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust have taken over management of the reserve and they seem to have done wonders with the site already since taking it on.
I found volunteering at Highgate thoroughly enjoyable and very rewarding. A small group of us met up at the Warden's office at 10am, everyone seemed very nice and welcoming, and were pleased to see a new face.
The order of the day was Himalayan balsam removal, which needed to be pulled from an area of the common where they have been trying to set up a butterfly glade in the woodland. Himalayan balsam is a very invasive introduced plant species which can take over the field layer of a site if left to its own devices.
It was hard work pulling up all of the plants, but they came up easily enough due to their shallow roots and we had a couple of lengthy breaks to give us all a breather. Tea, coffee and snacks were all provided, but you had to bring your own lunch.
We came across some interesting insects whilst doing the work, and this is one of the things Highgate Common specialises in. Particularly memorable were a couple of wasp beetles that we found on some old tree stumps. It is also meant to be very good for solitary bees and wasps, but we were in the wrong area of the reserve to see many of these because they prefer the heathland/grassland areas, where there is more bare soil for their nests. I look forward to going on a site visit some time soon to try and spot some of these (as well as get some photos).
For anyone that is interesting in volunteering I would definitely recommend it and I look forward to doing it again. There are wildlife trusts up and down the UK (47 in total) and they all welcome volunteers. I found out about the Highgate Common work party through their website at http://www.staffs-wildlife.org.uk/article/volunteering-event/view/highgate-common-workparty
To find your local trust go to http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/index.php?section=localtrusts