TCV: 60 years connecting people and places

Logo: TCV: 60 years

It was late February 1959, yet Spring was in the air.  Enjoying the day on Box Hill, Surrey, botanist David Bellamy was surprised to find a group of young people ripping up plants in a recently declared Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Discovering they were not vandals but volunteers clearing scrub with ‘The Conservation Corps’, he enthusiastically joined in! 

(The Conservation Volunteers)
(The Conservation Volunteers)

2019: another warm February.  In fact, the warmest on record. ‘The Conservation Corps,’ now The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), is celebrating its 60th anniversary.  David Bellamy is still with us (a TCV Vice-president) but the world has changed.  These days unseasonal sunshine is scary.

TCV too has changed over the decades, but it has held firm to one key insight: conservation volunteering is great for people and communities as well as Nature. When the Council for Nature founded The Conservation Corps in January 1959 it aimed to give young people some of the perceived benefits of National Service (then newly abolished).   What those young volunteers gained - a sense of purpose, personal achievement and sheer fun - delighted and inspired them.

In 1970 the organisation became an independent charity, the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) with the Duke of Edinburgh as Patron. Supported by people like, Sir David Attenborough, Bill Oddie, Spike Milligan, Cliff Richard and Lulu, it expanded its activities, including a registered membership scheme for 3,000 volunteers. In 1977 it set up a unique ecological park opposite the Tower of London, working with the London Queen's Silver Jubilee Committee.

(The Conservation Volunteers)
(The Conservation Volunteers)

Throughout the 1980’s, BTCV embraced urban environments and community action in the UK and abroad.  Midweek projects gave unemployed and retired people more opportunities to get involved.   BTCV established working holidays across Europe and launched the first of two successful Million Tree Campaigns following the Great Storm of 1987. The decade closed with BTCV membership at 10,000, its Natural Break conservation holiday programme the largest of its kind in Britain. 

In the 1990s, BTCV pursued its goals for people and society through the government's New Deal and Millennium Volunteers programme, for which BTCV received the largest first round funding, leading to over 3,000 volunteering placements in the next decade.

The first BTCV Green Gym, set up in 1998 with ‘social prescribing’ pioneer Dr William Bird of Sonning Common, Berkshire, highlighted the health benefits of conservation volunteering.

The social significance of BTCV’s activities continued to grow in the new millennium. BTCV's Environments for All encouraged people from under-represented groups to take up environmental conservation.  In 2001, BTCV was one of the UK’s largest environmental sector providers of training and support for the unemployed, while over £4 million from the New Opportunities Fund went to 500 community projects in deprived areas through the BTCV-managed People's Places Award Scheme. Sad eyesores near shopping centres became green community assets thanks to BTCV and the Prudential Grass Roots programme.   BTCV’s significance to the sector was later recognised by five-year strategic funding from the Cabinet Office.

(The Conservation Volunteers)
(The Conservation Volunteers)

The importance of conservation volunteering for health and well-being is reflected in the flourishing BTCV (now TCV) Green Gyms which celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2018, alongside projects with Mind, Birmingham Health Education Service and Dementia Adventure.  TCV also won awards from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Royal Society for Public Health.

TCV also continues to meet the challenges facing the natural world with programmes such as the Greenwich Meantime Nursery, Big Tree Plant for DEFRA and I Dig Trees with OVO.  Vital professional skills and knowledge have been nurtured by TCV’s Natural Talent and Natural Communities apprenticeships. TCV’s Community Network supports around 1000 local groups, with a dedicated website, competitively-priced insurance, discounts on merchandise, funding information, newsletter and access to grants. Membership (previously £38 annually) is now free to community groups, clubs, schools or local organisations that share TCV’s aims. Players of People's Postcode Lottery fund this and other programmes for community green spaces.

2019: in TCV’s diamond anniversary year, TCV goes on inspiring people across the UK to volunteer to improve local environments and biodiversity. People from across many communities are actively involved, well beyond the keen young conservers of the 1960s. In parks and community gardens, Local Nature Reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, school and hospital grounds, waterways, wetlands and woodlands, they join in and feel good. To find out how you can help them go to

Every day TCV works across the UK to create healthier and happier communities for everyone - communities where our activities have a lasting impact on people’s health, prospects and outdoor places.

We do this by bringing people together to create, improve and care for green spaces. From local parks and community gardens to Local Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest; from school grounds and hospital grounds to waterways, wetlands and woodlands; we connect people to the green spaces that form a vital part of any healthy, happy community.

Our team of dedicated, passionate staff and volunteers work with communities across England, Northern Ireland and Scotland and, through our Community Network,  we support local community groups across the UK.   

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