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How Volunteering Helped me get a job

Logo: Royal Forestry Society

By Hannah Holden, Forestry Assistant at Harewood Estate

Background

Volunteering on a rainy activity walk with the Pendle Landscape Partnership (Alison Cross)
Volunteering on a rainy activity walk with the Pendle Landscape Partnership (Alison Cross)

In April 2021 I made the decision to leave my job in the law sector in order to devote my time to volunteering and gaining practical skills that would hopefully lead me to a career in forestry. At this point in time, I was in the first (of three) year of studying for a distance learning Forestry MSc with Bangor University. This course has given me a wealth of knowledge to take forward into my forestry career, but I knew, as many job hunters will discover themselves, that practical skills were just as sought after as academic skills in the world of conservation.

Volunteering opportunities

I searched around online for conservation opportunities in my area and discovered the Pendle Landscape Partnership and the Ribble Rivers Valley Trust both appeared to be running volunteer sessions regularly. Tasks were varied and overlapping between the two organisations, as it was spring/summertime there was a big push for Himalayan balsam removal, a long but satisfying and necessary job. I also got involved in clearing water bars on Pendle Hill, staking and laying willow to prevent erosion of riverbanks and building leaky dams.

A Leaky Dam I made, shown working after some heavy rainfall (Hannah Holden)
A Leaky Dam I made, shown working after some heavy rainfall (Hannah Holden)

The other side to my time volunteering was spent working with people on nature-based activities. For example I spent time working with children at a forest school and on various activity days. I helped with the setup and running the day’s chosen activities such as trails, bird feeder making and digging for minibeasts. This was such a rewarding experience as I got to watch both children and their carers learn about nature and learn to love nature as well. I also had the opportunity to help lead a fungi walk with a social prescribed group of adults. Fungi are one of my particular passions, so I was very excited for this walk with the opportunity to share my knowledge with interested people. There were even some “first finds” for me on this walk and a number of people left at the end of the day excited to discover more fungi and buy their own identification guides!

Inspiration

Throughout my time volunteering I was continually inspired by the children and adults I worked with, hearing their stories of what they loved about spending time in nature. I was also inspired by the number of people that volunteer week after week whatever the weather simply because they care about the planet and their communities. Seeing these enthusiastic people has made me sure that I would like to work with volunteers throughout my career in whatever capacity I can.

When the commercial timber extractors came to Harewood they let me sit in the harvester! (Hannah Holden)
When the commercial timber extractors came to Harewood they let me sit in the harvester! (Hannah Holden)

Links from volunteering to my job

A clear link can be seen between the time I spent volunteering and my current job as an Assistant Forester Trainee. A number of activities I took part in as a volunteer are exactly the same as the activities I carry out on Harewood Estate in my current role including invasive species control and leaky dam creation. Within two weeks of starting my job I started constructing a number of large leaky dams and my previous experience in this was very helpful. Rather than cleaning out water bars, I have now had the opportunity to construct water bars from scratch and I will soon be planting goat willow along our newly dug out ponds to control erosion.

Me and a Shaggy Parasol Fungus found at Harewood (Hannah Holden)
Me and a Shaggy Parasol Fungus found at Harewood (Hannah Holden)

In addition, my time volunteering gave me the opportunity to work with a wide range of demographics. As a woman in forestry, it is very easy to feel like an outsider to my colleagues but spending this time volunteering with those different to me taught me how to find something to relate to within most people and this has proved invaluable.

Aspirations

Going forward I most definitely intend to continue with a career in forestry conservation. Wherever I end up I’d like to make sure I am working to improve the woodland for biodiversity and for people to enjoy. Perhaps eventually I will have my own woodland for people to come and visit. Until then and even beyond that I’m sure I will continue to gain more skills and knowledge to better myself and the forests I work in. I would also like to actively engage with encouraging more women into the forestry sector.

Hannah Holden is a Forestry Assistant at the Harewood Estate in West Yorkshire after successfully applying to the Royal Forestry Society’s (RFS) Forestry Roots Scheme. Thanks to funding from the ALA Charitable Trust, Forestry Roots matches college and university leavers with employers to provide the first steps in a career in forestry and additional training. More on the scheme at https://rfs.org.uk/learning/colleges-and-universities/forestry-roots/

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: 18/02/2022

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