Go green, get fit and learn about nature as a conservation helper. Whether in a city, a town or a village develop new skills while helping to preserve the environment. Opportunities exist to spend time outdoors and develop a wide range of leadership and practical countryside skills. Settings range from urban parks and woodlands to nature reserves, trails and sites of outstanding natural beauty. This is the perfect role for hill walkers, birdwatchers, gardeners or anyone who loves peace and nature.
Where to Get Involved Volunteer with countryside or park ranger services across the country. Local council websites have contact details. There are several national organisations with local groups. The biggest of these is the National Trust which has a host of opportunities in every aspect of conservation from landscape and ecology to historic buildings. The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (in England and Wales) and Scottish Wildlife Trust also offer dedicated conservation days and weekends (which usually carry a small cost.)
Usually no experience is necessary, just a basic level of fitness to carry out the work and some sturdy work clothes!
The types of projects available are very diverse, both outdoors and indoors. Carry out foot patrols of sites, help clear litter, watch out for anti-social behaviour in parks and assist field wardens in their work. Some projects issue uniforms for this type of work. Assist with gardening jobs or help out with hands-on conservation work.
This can include planting bulbs and trees, clearing weeds, building and maintaining footpaths to combat soil erosion and dry stone walling. Other tasks include erecting fences, maintaining ponds and mowing grass.
Volunteers also get involved with biological surveys to track animal and insect species – this helps to maintain their numbers and for action to be taken to protect vulnerable species. Creating suitable habitats follows on from this. For example building ponds and creating surrounding vegetation to support frogs, toads, newts, butterflies and damsel flies. This also provides a water source for small mammals such as shrews and voles. Another important habitat comes from preserving hedgerows which shelter and provide food for a host of wildlife from insects to birds and animals
Other roles involve outreach and education. Help out in visitor centres providing information. Give guided walks which identify species and encourage visitors to exist in harmony with nature. Get involved in educational activities for children and assist at public events such as open days. With the National Trust there are also opportunities to assist in the conservation of historic buildings.
Behind the scenes roles include researching the history of an area or historic building, conducting oral history interviews and helping to put on an exhibition for the public. There may also be the chance to assist with IT or get involved in marketing and PR for a site or special event.
These are just some of the diverse projects available.Helpers have also found themselves taking part in forestry work, reacting to emergencies such as storm damage and even making cider from locally harvested apples!
Training & Qualifications
With so many varied roles the nature of training varies considerably. Guidance and support will always be available. Many services will request a police disclosure for anyone who may work with children or vulnerable adults. Rangers and wardens will always ensure that relevant training is given for the task in hand.
In many cases First Aid Training is considered relevant and will be provided. There could be the opportunity to learn countryside skills such as tree planting, pollarding, coppicing and dry-stone walling. There may also be the chance to learn bird, animal, flower and tree recognition as a background to conducting surveys of flora and fauna. Volunteers get to learn about habitat management and other relevant skills such as operating a chain saw or bush cutter.
Softer skills such as communication, self-esteem and teaching may be gained through the experience. And all conservation volunteers will deepen their familiarity with local green areas or countryside and become more aware of ecology and green issues.
Volunteering can be a good entry route to a career in conservation too and is an excellent addition to a CV. This is especially helpful as paid jobs in this field are highly sought after. The National Trust for example has special vacancies available for helpers who can give 21 or more hours a week of their time. This would suit a retired person and also has high success rates for people going onto a career in the field. The Trust also offers careerships (like apprenticeships) for people looking to become gardeners and countryside wardens. Some volunteer roles may also support or provide a sound introduction for relevant qualifications such as the NVQII in Environmental conservation or the BTEC in Countryside management.