New ways of finding volunteers

Logo: Kent Wildlife Trust
Heather and Christine checking for evidence of  voles (© Heather Brown)
Heather and Christine checking for evidence of voles (© Heather Brown)

Like so many conservation organisations, here at Kent Wildlife Trust we would simply be unable to carry out our work if it were not for our amazing volunteers. 65% of our 1,063 volunteers join us on our reserves across the county andcarry out a huge range of practical conservation activities. In the last four years we have seen the age of our volunteers dropping as well as decreasing in the length of time our volunteers remain with us.     We know that whilst our work to protect Kent’s wildlife will continue, the way in which we attract new people to help us do this must change. Our volunteer pool has traditionally been made up of retired people who we are fortunate to have as long serving volunteers. However, we, along with the volunteers themselves, are looking to the future for these teams.   One of our volunteers, Selwyn, told us: “The long term commitment of the volunteers does have its downside, though. We are not getting any younger and we have joked that, in time, we will be arriving on mobility scooters!”

Volunteers carrying out ecological surveys  (© Paul Tinsley-Marshall)
Volunteers carrying out ecological surveys (© Paul Tinsley-Marshall)

As a volunteer-involving organisation,we have seen that traditional methods for recruitment, training and recognition of our volunteers are no longer achieving what they did now that the motivations for volunteering have changed.   Gone are the days where volunteers are looking for ways to fill their spare time, and for many of our new volunteers, we find that we can provide a potential route into a career in conservation, or a way in which to spend time outside and away from work or home life constructively. These new volunteers may not wish to commit as much time to their volunteering, or may move on to other organisations or roles once they have gained experience; and we are proud to celebrate being part of someone’s journey into the conservation sector, knowing that we have played a part in that.

Volunteers clearing scrub at Sandwich & Pegwell Bay (© Dee Govan)
Volunteers clearing scrub at Sandwich & Pegwell Bay (© Dee Govan)

As part of our work to encourage more people to volunteer with us, we’re trying new hings. We advertise volunteer roles on our website and through (the national volunteering database) as well as through Countryside Jobs.   More and more, we rely on social media, advertising directly with colleges and community organisations and, in 2017, we are hosting a number of introductory sessions on our reserves across the autumn season.

By encouraging new volunteers to come and have a go at our activities, we’re hoping to show that volunteering with us does not require expert wildlife knowledge; that we look after our volunteers; and demonstrate the impact of the work that can be achieved by joining us; and to also show what practical conservation work is (it’s not all about planting trees!).

Volunteers about to take a break at Hothfield  Heathlands (© Kent Wildlife Trust)
Volunteers about to take a break at Hothfield Heathlands (© Kent Wildlife Trust)

By hosting these sessions, we’re aiming to alleviate any expectation the potential volunteers have of needing to make a commitment - something which can be off-putting - and provide an opportunity for potential volunteers to get to know the teams they’ll be working with.   A large proportion of our task day teams are male, and we’re delighted that many women are signing up to the introductory sessions, so we’re hoping that these will encourage diversity and create a welcoming session which inspires the attendees to return.  

We’ll be ensuring there are plenty of hot drinks and biscuits (an army of volunteers is, as we all know, powered mainly by cake!) and providing demonstrations of the work we do; explanations of why we’re doing what we’re doing; and a very warm welcome.   We’re asking attendees to sign up prior to attending, and this way, we will be able to follow up with them afterwards and provide a pathway into joining our volunteer family.  

We’re confident that through these sessions, we will bring in new volunteers to help us as we work with people to restore, save and enhance our natural heritage. More information about our volunteering programme can be found on our website:

Carly Whyborn

Volunteer Development Officer

Kent Wildlife Trust

First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in association with RSPB on 18 September 2017