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The Benefits of Recruiting Retired People as Conservation Volunteers by Jessica Whitehead, Volunteers Officer

Logo: Lee Valley Regional Park Authority

I have volunteered for many different conservation organisations in the past and it has been my privilege to have worked alongside adults who were much older and wiser than me, most of whom were retired or semi-retired and had a lot of interesting knowledge to share.

At this time, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority has 641 volunteers registered on its database. 58% of these volunteers are aged 45 and over, and 12% aged 65 plus. Within the age range of 45 plus around 60% of volunteers are male to 40% female.

Maurice Bond, Dawn Clayton (Casual Countryside Assistant) and Brenda  Chanter , Lee Valley Conservation Volunteers tree planting between  Walthamstow Marsh and Leyton Marsh (Eamonn Lawlor, Ranger)
Maurice Bond, Dawn Clayton (Casual Countryside Assistant) and Brenda Chanter , Lee Valley Conservation Volunteers tree planting between Walthamstow Marsh and Leyton Marsh (Eamonn Lawlor, Ranger)

We do not track how many of these people are retired but we estimate that it is a reasonably high number and we can be certain that volunteering is an activity that attracts many people who want something to do once they have finished their working careers.

Lee Valley Regional Park Authority has around twenty different roles available for volunteers at any one time. Our 80 Conservation Volunteers and our 60 Fisheries Volunteers comprise two of the largest groups, assisting our Rangers and Fisheries teams at 40-50 sites each year throughout our 26 mile long park which reaches from Hertfordshire through Essex and down to the banks of the Thames.

In addition to our own Volunteers we also work in partnership with other organisations leading their own conservation projects or managing other areas within the park. For example TCV holds work parties that regularly visit some of our sites in the southern part of the park around the area of Lea Bridge Road, and many fishing clubs using Lee Valley waters rely on volunteers.

‘By word of mouth’ is one of the most common responses we get from volunteers when asked how they have heard about our opportunities. Our registered volunteers are extremely valuable in spreading the word about the work we do and encouraging others to take an interest.

Throughout my work with volunteers I got to know certain individuals within a team very well, learnt about their backgrounds and found that each volunteer has something different to offer to the team. Some of the current volunteers I work with have come from jobs with high levels of responsibility including a director from a pharmaceutical company, customer services manager at one of Britain’s biggest banks, insurance underwriters and ICT engineers, all of whom are now putting their skills and intelligence to use in a new environment.

Others have come from practical trades where they were used to being hands on and were already very used to using tools. There were also people who have a great deal of knowledge about the local area including its history and wildlife. When I am out on a task with our volunteers I learn something new each time varying from how to fell a tree safely to how to identify local invasive species.

We receive some really positive feedback from our volunteers. Below Colin Short describes his experience of volunteering within Lee Valley Regional Park in his own words

Colin Short and the Fisheries Task Force  building a raised walkway  (Jamie Godson, Fisheries Officer)
Colin Short and the Fisheries Task Force building a raised walkway (Jamie Godson, Fisheries Officer)

Colin Short, Age 61, Volunteer Fisheries Bailiff

“I started volunteering in Lee Valley Regional Park in 1985, helping out with the fisheries and was a bailiff for the fisheries in 1997 and a head bailiff since 1998 in addition to my current responsibilities as the Fisheries Volunteer Co-ordinator.

“Since retiring, I spend two days a week helping the fisheries team with their day to day workload along with other retired members of the Task Force. This includes the bi-annual electro fishing survey that provides information on fish populations for Lee Valley Regional Park Authority’s Biodiversity team and the Herts Wildlife Trust.

“My favourite part of the job is working on the Carp Rearing Facility and helping with the fish stock. We keep photographic records of the fish and I’ve seen fish grow from just five pounds to 36 pounds. It’s great to the see the benefits of the work which you’re doing.

“All the volunteers are really friendly. There’s great camaraderie and I’ve made many new long term friends. We always have a laugh and joke between us, but the best thing is that you have something to show for your work at the end of the day and as most of the fishery work is physical it helps keep me fit and also saves on gym fees.

“Volunteering has given me a great opportunity to spend more time outdoors developing my Fishery Management knowledge and skills.”

Volunteers can register via http://c-js.uk/1SgbUTN or contact us using any of the details below:

Volunteers Team, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, Myddelton House, Bulls Cross, Enfield, Middlesex   EN2 9HG E: volunteers@leevalleypark.org.uk   T: 01992 709867

Check: Feb17

First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in association with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) on 15 February 2016