Lifelong love of nature for Suffolk couple the Sivyers

BRIAN and Diane Sivyer have a special talent when it comes to interesting youngsters in wildlife.

The couple began volunteering for the RSPB 35 years ago after moving to Suffolk – helping to form a local branch of the charity, raising money for it and helping to run family days at the Minsmere nature reserve.

But, with both husband and wife having jobs in education, one of the most important skills they were able to offer was helping to enthuse youngsters about the wonders of the natural world on their doorsteps.

Now Brian and Diane are the proud recipients of the RSPB’s President’s Award for their outstanding commitment to nature conservation in Suffolk. Only a few of the awards are presented each year.

The couple, who live in Oulton Broad, began volunteering with the RSPB in the 1970s after moving to Suffolk.

They were founder members of the RSPB’s Lowestoft group and have been heavily involved in its committee in various roles over the years.

Brian worked for many years in the further education welfare service while Diane was a teacher during her working life.

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Their love of wildlife has taken them from schools in Suffolk in their role as “bird friendly volunteers” to muddy fields where they have carried out bird surveys for farmers.

They are also often to be found at Minsmere – helping to plan events and enabling families to discover nature.

And if that’s not enough, they find time to look after five RSPB pin badge boxes in the area, raising crucial funds for RSPB conservation work across the eastern region.

Brian, 69, who was the first secretary of the charity’s Lowestoft group, remembers the first time he became aware of wildlife.

“I was six years old and sitting up in my hospital bed after contracting tonsilitis. Someone had given me a bird book. I distinctly remember the picture of a heron on the front,” he said.

Other childhood memories include visiting a flooded clay pit – “the water was extremely deep” – to see great crested grebes and attempting, with friends, to get a picture of skylarks with a “box brownie” camera!

“My parents used to put out food for garden birds but neither of them were great wildlife enthusiasts. I do remember my mother having to putting out cups to be put over the milk bottles which were delivered to our home. That was to stop the blue tits pecking holes in the tops,” said Brian who believes he did not become hooked on wildlife until he became an adult.

Brian started his working life as a junior in a London shipping office in London. He spent 15 years in the capital as a police officer before moving to Suffolk and becoming a probation officer and then an official in the further education welfare service, a career which extended over 24 years.

Diane, 70, remembers accompanying her father on nature walks and seeing birdlife when her

family spent holidays in north Norfolk.

Her teaching career included a year in Canada, the country to which members of her family had emigrated during the 1950s.

She and Brian have been members of the RSPB for 40 years and they are also members of both the Suffolk and Norfolk wildlife trusts.

The couple, who have two sons and two daughters, travel to various parts of East Anglia to watch birds and are always on the look-out for wildlife during holidays abroad. Once, during a holiday in South Africa, they went on a five-day birding tour down to the southern cape.

“We’ve also been on a safari type holiday in Kenya. We like all kinds of wildlife, not just birds. It’s absolutely fantastic,” Brian said.

Their oldest son, David, 47, is also a keen bird-watcher, having attended one of the RSPB’s Young Ornithologists’ Club course at Cambridge at the age of nine. The couple’s other children are Helen, Austin and Samantha.

Brian and Diane moved to Suffolk in the footsteps of Brian’s parents who had retired to live in Lowestoft.

“We really grew to like the area during our visits and decided to move up here,” he said.

After helping to found the Lowestoft group of the RSPB, the couple were involved in various fund-raising activities, helped to put up bird boxes and to organise film shows.

“Over the past 35 years we’ve gained a lot of satisfaction from volunteering with the RSPB, especially working with youngsters in schools and on farms. We look forward to doing much more in the future,” Brian said.

“As Bird Friendly School Volunteers it is amazing to see the boundless enthusiasm that children have for wildlife. When you see that big grin on their face when they first discover a new bird or bug, it makes all the effort feel so worthwhile.

“As well as going into schools, many of our volunteering opportunities have taken us to places that we have never been before, and enabled us to meet some fantastic people that we would otherwise never have met. Spending an early morning surveying birds with the sun glistening off the dew in the fields is a great experience and one of the things that makes getting up early worth it.”

Were he and Diane surprised by the RSPB’s President’s Award? “Yes it came totally out of the blue - knew absolutely nothing in advance and we still don’t know who nominated us for it.”

Emily Field, RSPB volunteer & farmer alliance project officer, said: “When Brian and Diane started volunteering to carry out bird surveys for farmers, we could only have dreamed how successful the project would become, and since then volunteers have surveyed over 100 farms in Suffolk.

“These vital bridges simply couldn’t have been built without these fantastic people giving a gift of their time to save farmland birds like the iconic skylark.”

Ian Barthorpe, marketing and publicity officer at Minsmere, said: “Brian and Diane’s enthusiasm is infectious. They have put in so many hours helping the RSPB, in so many different capacities, that it’s easy to forget they are volunteers rather than paid staff.

“At Minsmere, Brian and Diane have been instrumental in ensuring the ongoing success of our extremely popular summer family days which they have helped to plan and organise for more than ten years. This award is totally justified.”

If you fancy spending anywhere from an hour on a weekend or more volunteering with the RSPB in Suffolk then contact Jane Delaney, email: jane.delaney@rspb.org.uk. or telephone 01603 697503.