Filling my wellies with water

Cally Day, SISI Volunteer, June 2019

Cally has been volunteering with the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI) for a year and shares her experiences with us of her time volunteering so far.

I was studying applied science when Karen from Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI) came along to the college to give us a presentation explaining her role as project officer, which included, conservation work and reaching out to the community to help identify and tackle the problems we are facing with invasive species along our water courses. As Karen went on to explain in more detail about the activities her role involves the entire room turned to focus on me. Everyone who knows me understands how I love to be outside investigating and seeking out anything out of the ordinary. Hearing about her talk about her work and the benefits to the native wildlife and biodiversity, really had me interested. That was what I wanted to do. I got in touch via email immediately with Karen who works within the Deveron, Bogie and Isla rivers catchment area, and with James who works within the Lossie, Nairn and Findhorn rivers catchment. They both put me to work straight away…

Cally (right) with SISI project officer Karen (left)

My first volunteering expedition, and I call it an expedition because it was exactly that. Karen took me to a stretch of the river Ugie in Aberdeenshire which to say the least was varied terrain. We were surveying the presence and amount of the invasive non-native Himalayan Balsam plant. Along our route we encountered some overgrown bramble, nettles and some boggy areas which I almost lost a wellie in. I fell to the ground many times, which was mostly due to my lack of balance and finesse. However, it was a superb experience and we had some serious fun along the way. There was an area of intense overgrowth so we decided to it would be easier to cross the river onto the other side. No-one fell in, which was a real achievement, although we made sure that we were perfectly safe by choosing a relatively low and slow running area to cross, but the wellies did fill up. Fortunately, it was a scorcher of a day and during our lunch break I was able to dry my socks out. I think we must’ve walked about two and a half miles that day, and did what we set out to do, survey complete. I wasn’t sure if Karen would take me back out with her again or if she went away thinking I was a bit of a liability, but thankfully we have tackled the rivers many times since, mostly controlling Giant hogweed.

Finding Giant hogweed

James also got in touch and offered me my very own Mink Monitoring Raft, which I was delighted about. He came and explained how it all works and gave me information about what I could look out for and left me to it. It’s always very exciting to go and check a raft for any signs of wildlife. I have had several prints but none of them mink, which can be a positive sign. I have seen otters down by the river while I have been down checking my raft, which is always nice to see. Since James gave me my first raft, he offered me a second raft along a different stretch of river which again I was happy to agree to. When I go to the river to check on my rafts, I usually spend a few hours there just taking in the surroundings and taking that time to relax. I noticed other signs of wildlife presence, including footprints and padded down plants, holes in the embankments and feathers, so I bought myself a trail camera. Since I have set it up, I have had footage of roe deer, badgers, mice, pheasants and lots of various native birds.

Mink monitoring raft

I have been learning as I have been going along from the project staff, I have attended events including Wild about Aden, which is a family event within a country setting for all ages. We set up an information stall for SISI which was a public engagement role. Spending a couple of days engaging with the public, educating them about the invasive non-native species and their effects improved my confidence and I was surprised at how much I had learned in the short time I had been working with them. SISI has also given me the opportunity to attend courses, including the pesticide spraying course where I gained my certification which now enables me to use pesticides to treat invasive plants.

Treating Giant hogweed with pesticide

There have been so many opportunities in my first year working as a volunteer with SISI that I would never have expected, which I am very grateful for. It has been very rewarding seeing the impact we are making on embankments of the rivers and streams, and successfully handing over the opportunity and support to landowners to take the reins and continue.

I have been out many times now with Karen, James and Al on long days of Giant Hogweed control and my fitness levels have improved remarkably. I have noticed that my breathing has improved and my balance too. I can carry weights of 15 litres on my back and walk for many miles. But most of all, my mood is always on top form when I am out and about with them. They are a super team to work with.

Helping SISI project officer James light the Kelly kettle to make a brew

I have a lot of exciting times ahead with SISI and a lot more conservation work to do which I am looking forward to. Thanks SISI.

And thanks to you Cally 🙂

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