Why the UK’s National Parks are celebrating their Volunteers
There are 15 members in the UK National Park family. These vitally protected areas span the length and breadth of the country, renowned for their beautiful countryside, wildlife and cultural heritage. National Parks are full of life, people live and
work amongst these most treasured landscapes and the farms, villages and towns are protected along with the land and wildlife. English National Parks alone welcome over 90 million visitors a year and all Parks provide opportunities for everyone to experience, enjoy and learn about their special qualities.
Last year, nearly 5,000 people volunteered their time across the UK’s 15 National Parks. Volunteering is an important part of stewarding these precious landscapes for future generations, and it’s about so much more than clearing litter, as Rosie Hancock Pook, Communications Manager at National Parks UK tell us: “National Park Volunteers give their time, energy, skills and enthusiasm to help us conserve and enhance the country's 15 greatest assets and safeguard them for future generations to experience and enjoy. It’s easy to get involved, each National Park lists volunteering options on its website, with roles ranging from practical work to more ambassadorial roles in visitor centres and promotion at events and festivals. Volunteers can also be called on to carry out wildlife surveys, lead guided walks and work with schools on educational visits. Most parks run volunteer ranger programmes too, with the opportunity to work with full-time rangers.
Our volunteers come from all walks of life. From retirees who want to ‘give something back’ to students and young people looking to widen their experience and aid their first step into work. Some come to us individually, others as part of an existing group or as a corporate volunteering task with their employers. What all our volunteers have in common is the wish to give their time, energy and skills to help the National Parks achieve their purposes of conserving their special qualities and helping visitors to enjoy and experience all the Parks have to offer.
James Gillies, 52, from Glasgow, agrees: “I wanted to give something back”, he told The Guardian. “Volunteering is a great way for me to put all that knowledge about the countryside I’ve picked up over the years to good use.” Gillies volunteers as a ranger in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, maintaining upland hill paths and working in the park’s visitor centre. The keen walker has also become an Adopt a Path volunteer, surveying a trail at Beinn Ime Mountain in the Arrochar Alps twice a year, with his reports informing the park’s maintenance work.
For Gillies, volunteering has offered a lifeline during a spell out of work. “It keeps me busy and shows potential employers that I’ve not just sat around doing nothing. Working in visitor centres has made me much more confident talking to people, too.”
Over on the Pembrokeshire Coast, the National Park’s youth rangers are helping to inspire local people. The group is open to 18 to 25-year-olds, and members regularly take part in conservation work, as well as running children’s activities and talking to the public about the park. “Taking part gives the young people a greater sense of community and pride in the National Park and where they live,” coordinator Tom Moses told the Guardian website.
James Gillies and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park youth rangers are both past nominees in the National Parks UK Volunteer Awards. We run the annual awards to recognise and reward the transformative action made by our dedicated National Park volunteers. Any individual, group, young person or project volunteering in National Parks can be nominated and winners are selected by an expert panel including television presenter and National Park advocate, Julia Bradbury.
We are delighted to be able to showcase through the awards just how incredible our volunteers are and for the nominees and winners it provides an opportunity to meet like-minded people from across the UK and take a well-deserved break from their hard work in the Parks.
The 2017 awards ceremony was held at Kendal Mountain Festival and saw winners presented with their prizes by BAFTA-winning adventurer, writer and television presenter Steve Backshall. Winners received bursaries toward future volunteering activity and the latest outdoor kit from official National Parks outfitter Columbia Sportswear, who also generously sponsored the event.
Derek Collins from Dartmoor Preservation Association won the Individual category for his tireless work across Dartmoor National Park - from bracken management to clearing ground around ancient scheduled monuments, and the mucky job of clearing water leats.
Caitlin McCauley spends her university holidays supporting families and children from the most deprived areas of the Tees Valley in their visits to North York Moors National Park and was the recipient of the Young Person category award. The Cleveland Way Adoption Scheme, winner of the Project award, enables families, scout troops and other groups to carry out practical conservation in North York Moors National Park and provides crucial information to the Cleveland Way Maintenance Ranger and National Trails Officer.
The winner of the Group award was the Peak District Mosaic group; a collective made up of individuals from BME (black and minority ethnic) communities around the Peak District National Park. They give their time to mentor, increase confidence and encourage people from BME communities and those who have challenging social and community issues to access the Peak District National Park
I would wholeheartedly recommend recognising the work of your volunteers with an awards ceremony. Not only do they provide some much-deserved recognition for those generously donating their time to support your cause but, crucially, they can help publicise the generosity of volunteers and communicate the impact this sometimes overlooked but consistently vital workforce has on the UK’s extraordinary countryside.”
For more information on volunteering in National Parks, please visit nationalparks.gov.uk, or follow us on social media @uknationalparks