Communication makes volunteers feel appreciated

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By Ro Turan, BBOWT Volunteer Development Manager

The Berkshire Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust was started by volunteers in 1959. We are now supported by over 1800 volunteers. Volunteers are vital to our success in effectively achieving our aims, they are able to provide specialist expertise, resources to enable us to carry out work beyond the remit and capacity of the staff team, detailed local knowledge and a constituency for wildlife in local communities. Volunteers at BBOWT undertake an extremely wide range of duties and cover every aspect of the Trust’s work; from the practical conservation work to the academic, from education to marketing, from leading walks to selling plants and from biological surveying to greeting visitors at a visitor centre.

BBOWT Dancersend volunteers (Mick Jones)
BBOWT Dancersend volunteers (Mick Jones)

Our volunteers tell us that they offer their time because they believe in the work of the Trust, they work hard and want feedback about how their efforts benefit wildlife. The most valuable way that BBOWT can show its appreciation to our wonderful volunteers is through communication.

Traditionally communication has been one-way; information is sent out to volunteers from head office and from team leaders. The volunteer team has recently launched a new BBOWT Volunteers Hub in order to make that communication two-way. It is an online forum where volunteers and staff can discuss issues, seek advice and access documents. The team spent some time researching the various forums available. Some bombarded us with advertising, others were confusing to use. We looked at specialist volunteer management platforms which provide useful tools but they are expensive. Eventually we decided to build our own platform using a commercially available forum template and a unique web domain. Our aim was to keep the BBOWT Volunteers Hub simple, clear and easy to use.

Example of the Volunteer Hub website (BBOWT)

The hub is a secure place exclusively for BBOWT volunteers. When a volunteer signs up they agree to a code of conduct and their application is checked by BBOWT staff. Volunteer discussions are already taking place on topics from heather regeneration to new Lyme disease vaccines. Volunteers are able to share useful information about sources of equipment and conservation techniques. The conversations can be monitored and anything outside the code of conduct could be flagged by members and removed.

We have a section where volunteers can record wildlife sightings. Sharing exciting sightings with other likeminded volunteers can build connections across our three counties. Our volunteers have the chance to ask “Can anyone confirm the identity of this caterpillar?”, calling on the expertise of others.

BBOWT has an established group of campaigning volunteers called Wildlife Ambassadors. They lobby MPs and councillors about environmental issues. The hub provides a secure online space for this group to receive campaign updates and share ideas. For example, the UK Government recently allowed the use of a banned bee-killing pesticide on sugar beet crops across England, just weeks after passing the new Environment Act. The deadly neonicotinoid, or 'neonic', called thiamethoxam, was banned EU-wide in 2018 because of the wide-spread harm it causes to wildlife. Shockingly, the UK Government authorised the use of the same neonic, for a second year in a row. This information was shared on the hub by a volunteer and BBOWT’s Wildlife Ambassadors contacted their MPs to ask the Government to reverse the decision.

Image: Wilder 5 year strategic plan

The BBOWT Volunteers Hub provides our volunteers with access to all the documents which they need. We share our Codes of Practice, policies, strategic plans and risk assessments there. Handbooks and reports are easily downloaded. It is straight forward for staff to update these documents as new versions are published. BBOWT’s strategic plan ‘Wilder’ aims to bring about nature’s recovery through local action. We want to see more nature everywhere. The work which volunteers do is fundamental to achieving this vision for our three counties and we want them to be informed about the impact of their endeavours.

Another development which BBOWT has made towards two-way communication with volunteers is the new Volunteers Voice Forum. Made up of 10 representative volunteers, we meet online quarterly to discuss issues which arise from volunteers. Ideas from the Volunteer Voice Forum are then discussed by staff committees and staff members are invited to the online forum meetings to provide answers to questions and to clarify processes. Through this ongoing cyclic conversation BBOWT is able to work effectively with our volunteers.

Image: Join Team Wilder today

In order to achieve our strategic goal BBOWT has committed to communicating beyond our own volunteers; to the wider community. ‘Team Wilder’ is a new strategy to inspire everyone to get involved in conservation in their community. Research shows that if just one person in every four takes up a cause, this can be enough to change the minds and behaviour of the majority. Our aim is to harness the collective energy and talents of our 3 counties and bring everyone together into a bigger, bolder movement for nature’s recovery.

Our Community Engagement Team are working outside BBOWT’s 85 reserves and visitor centres, inspiring individuals, community groups, businesses and schools to be part of Team Wilder by taking direct action for nature. At the BBOWT website each action can be added to our interactive map which shows all the things people in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, have been doing for nature. The website also offers simple ideas to get started such as; how to create a pallet garden; how to do companion planting; how to build a pond (a pond is one of the single best features for attracting new wildlife to the garden).

Not everyone will be engaged in the online world of communication. The most frequent and the most valuable communication is always personal. Our volunteers often work in teams and we have fantastic Key Volunteers who lead those teams. The personal chats and interactions can never be replaced but we hope that the additional layers of communication which we have been developing are valuable.

First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in affiliation with the Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) on 28 February 2022. Read the full issue here


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Posted On: 08/02/2022

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