The differing roles of conservation volunteers

Logo: White Cliffs Countryside Partnership

The White Cliffs Countryside Partnership has a range of opportunities for volunteers to assist us in practical conservation work, and each has its benefits and drawbacks.

Priorities include

• conservation management (scrub clearing, path clearing, litter clearing) usually provided by a team of volunteers on practical conservation work parties.

• on-site reporting and repairing damage, monitoring livestock, path clearing, responding to problems which is done by local residents or regular dog walkers.

• helping lead guided walks and other events.

Some volunteers can do both priorities, but generally we have found that different parts of the work is completed by separate groups of people. We have identified 3 separate volunteer roles:

Task volunteers clearing litter along the River Dour (Paul Sampson, WCCP)
Task volunteers clearing litter along the River Dour (Paul Sampson, WCCP)

Volunteer site wardens/lookers (without a base) The sites we manage are quite close to town/village centres so this has the bonus of local people (again generally dog walkers) who live close by who will pick a regular day or two and check the animals on those days. However, they work alone and normally provide this support while walking a dog before or after work. More difficult is to provide cover for sites that are more remote.


• They live close to the site that you manage

• They know the local area and the local people

• They feel possession of the site and proud of it

• They provide a regular commitment

• They keep in regular contact with you


• They move away and new residents move in

• They sometimes have to deal with their own neighbours who may have differing views on the management (livestock, scrub clearing) or when reporting damage or antisocial behaviour.

• Need to provide regular newsletters to recruit new local residents which is expensive

• They are only on site for a short while

• They can’t be contacted in an emergency

• You have to provide them with equipment that may only get used on an occasional basis.

• As you don’t manage them directly, so you have to be careful they don’t greatly exaggerate the role they are playing or use your name inappropriately claiming to have your permission.

• Volunteers need transport to get to the site if they are not local

• The sites can sometimes be remote so it’s difficult to recruit volunteers

Volunteer site rangers/lookers (with a base) If they have a focal point, like a site office or visitor centre to work from with facilities (toilets, phone, refreshments, shelter), then this is the easiest site to recruit volunteers, even if it is in a remote area.   They have regular days with which they attend and are confident enough to cover for when the paid rangers are not on site. Normally 2 rangers will be on site at any one time.   They will attend on a regular basis and keep us informed if they are unable to attend.

Task volunteers scrub clearing on the Western Heights Nature Reserve  (Paul Sampson, WCCP)
Task volunteers scrub clearing on the Western Heights Nature Reserve (Paul Sampson, WCCP)


• They feel part of the team

• They are easier to recruit

• They provide regular commitment

• They can cover for paid staff

• They are always on-site so can respond quickly to an emergency

• They take pride in the site and can work without supervision 


• You have the expense of providing them with identifiable clothing

• You need a base to work from

• You need to plan for and provide regular work for them to do each day.

Conservation volunteers work with you as part of a team following a regular programme of events.   They can help with major projects and regular site maintenance.   This also means that you get to know them better and can call on them in an emergency or for some extra work project that you might need additional assistance with.


• You have a planned programme of events so you can plan the work load

• Work as part of a team

• Social contact with other like-minded individuals

• You can get a lot of work done in a single day

• You can call on them in an emergency

Rangers clearing a footpath along Folkestone Warren  (Kirk Alexander, WCCP)
Rangers clearing a footpath along Folkestone Warren (Kirk Alexander, WCCP)

• They come out on a regular basis

• They learn about the sites and the work you are doing

• They will often assist in other volunteering roles (e.g. walk leaders, assist with stalls and displays)


• Takes a lot of organizing – transport, equipment, protective clothing, refreshments, event publications.

• You have to be present to manage them

• Have to stick to those dates even in wet weather!

• Have no idea how many people will turn up

• Regular newsletters and printed publications needed to keep in contact

• Annual update of personal information

• Loaning of equipment (litter pickers, gloves)

• Some are more interested in the social or physical side of volunteering rather than an interest in conservation.

We have found that with all types of volunteers you need to keep in contact with people in order for them to continue the link, and to think of themselves as part of a team, whichever role they play. This can be through newsletters, email, Facebook and is also particularly important for recruitment as volunteer situations change, they move away, or their health deteriorates. However, this does take a lot of time and money.   We have found an annual get-together that brings all the volunteers together is needed, so that they can meet each other and learn about and value all the roles the different volunteers play.

For more information about volunteering opportunities please contact Sue Bradford on 01304 241806 or or look at

First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in affiliation with the Association of Countryside Volunteers on 23 September 2013

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