Volunteering is key for anyone who wants to get into the conservation sector for a career. It’s a great way not only to expand your skill base but to network with relevant organisations and get your foot in the door for any new opportunities.
I’ve volunteered with many organisations and charities and it has been the only way for me to get practical experience in the conservation sector. These opportunities have also developed many of my interpersonal skills ready for the working environment. I’ve also met some amazing people along the way some of which will be life long friends, volunteering is a great way to meet like minded people.
Lets go through all of the volunteering I’ve ever done, there’s quite a list!
Whilst at Secondary school I volunteered for short periods on projects such as the National Citizen Service and Operation Christmas Child as well as a 2 week trip to Tanzania with Quest for Change. I also completed my Bronze, Silver and Gold Duke of Edinburgh Awards through Scouts and my school which included 3 periods of voluntary work.
Northumberland Wildlife Trust
Whilst at University I volunteered with the Northumberland Wildlife Trust as an Otter Surveyor. This was an ad hock position completing surveys in the autumn and winter months as and when required. I completed surveys looking for the presence of otters along the upland rivers in Northumberland and collected scat to be sent off for DNA testing.
I volunteered with The Ramblers for a short period checking individual squares of OS maps and comparing these to historic maps looking for any differences or missing paths and then recording these.
The Lake District National Park Authority
I completed 2 weeks work experience with The Lake District National Park helping to to designate the sites for Fell Care Days run by Friends of the Lake District and assisting with a lottery funding bid for a cycle way around Thirlmere.
Northumberland National Park Authority
I was very lucky to secure a student placement with Northumberland National Park. This involved weekly practical work parties completing activities such as clearing invasive species and surveying promoted routes. I continued volunteering with them beyond my placement and this is where my passion for access began thanks to their National Trails Officer Lorna Lazzari who introduced me to the world of Public Rights of Way. Going on to visiting schools to encourage sixth form students to volunteer with the National Park sharing my experiences with them.
RSPB – Loch Gruinart
I spent 2 weeks living on Loch Gruinart on Islay as a residential volunteer. This was an amazing experience from very wet days installing new path surfacing to glorious sunshine sitting in the heather completing hen harrier surveys. I spent many hours waiting to see a single chough and got to see many pairs of them feeding in the evenings as well as spotting golden eagles on guided walks and seeing the faces of children who thought it was amazing!
The North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
I completed a student placement with the North Pennines AONB where I managed a volunteer project in a local woodland, engaging local people to get involved and help protect their green spaces. This placement also included surveying peat bog grips and their management and working with schools on a Nectar Works project and Cold Blooded and Spineless project educating school children about invertebrates.
RSPB – Coombes Valley & Consall Woods
After graduating university I moved to Staffordshire as a residential intern for the RSPB Coombes Valley This gave me the opportunity to complete my chainsaw and pesticide training to obtain my licenses funded by the RSPB which was a great benefit of volunteering (usually many more tickets were available but I started late in the year replacing another inter that left early). The internship included:
Assisting the team to carry out the weekly work programme of habitat management and estate work which may include: Woodland Management, Maintaining gates, stiles, bridges and boardwalks, fencing, footpath maintenance and repairs. Assisting as part of a small reserve team day to day management and admin tasks such as entering records onto Merlin. Updating Cross Compliance records. Assisting with organising the weekly volunteer work programme; supervising volunteer work parties. Carrying out trail safety audits, machinery, vehicle and buildings checks weekly. Assisting with Quality Assurance checks to maintain high standards of facilities Assisting the Site Manager to deliver a visitor experience that created memorable opportunities to connect people with nature and increase their support for The RSPB. Assisting with managing and motivating of a team of volunteers to provide a brilliant visitor experience and generate income for the reserve through membership, entrance charges and donations. Assisting with the delivery of a programme of income-generating events, which helped convert visits into active support and meet key performance indicators. This including 2 history walks and a big garden birdwatch support event. Managing an effective programme of ongoing evaluation to track visitor satisfaction on site. Assisting with the reserve’s social-media presence.
I volunteered with my local Scout group as a Cub Scout Leader for a short period. This was a really rewarding position providing regular opportunities for young people to access the outdoors and supporting them to achieve goals towards personal development.
Not only have I volunteered in the conservation sector but I have volunteered with the Riding for the Disabled Association for over 10 years now. This has really helped to develop my leadership skills and improve my confidence.
Lake District Calvert Trust Riding for the Disabled
I volunteered at Calvert Lakes for 4 years which then resulted in being offered a paid job where I worked part time for 5 years. This role included helping with daily care of 10 horses as well as assisting with sessions enabling people of all abilities to access the outdoors via horse riding and carriage driving in the stunning setting of the Lake District.
Washington Riding Centre Riding for the Disabled
Whilst at University I volunteered at Washington Riding Centre where I assisted with riding lessons for disabled clients and helped with daily yard tasks.
Woodbridge and District Riding for the Disabled
I have volunteered at Woodbridge and District Riding for the Disabled for 2 years now and continue to volunteer here at the moment. I am now a coach for the centre taking sole responsibility for group sessions, upholding an exemplary standard and offering support and mentoring to Coaches In Training in order to:-
1. Create and maintain good relationships with both participants and volunteers
• Communicate clearly in a positive and encouraging manner at all times.
• Work alongside participants and carers to create achievable goals and action plans.
• Encourage collaboration between participants and their volunteers to ensure a comfortable and enriching environment for sessions to take place in.
2. Actively manage the running of sessions
• Comple (and updating as necessary) risk assessments for sessions.
• Take responsibility for the health and safety of sessions and being familiar with any procedures/routines that need to be upheld.
• Revisit rider records to ensure any adjustments, due to deteriorating or progressing conditions, are made.
3. Ensure a high standard of equine welfare for any equines being used in your session
• Know how to evaluate an equines level of soundness and be aware of procedures should an equine in sessions be lame.
• Thoroughly check all tack is correctly fitted and check that it is fit for purpose. Also, check any special equipment is fitted safely and comfortably for both horse and participant.
• Ensure the equines are suitably warmed up for the session.
• Be vigilant with equine/participant suitability, specifically the weight carrying abilities of the equines and the temperament of the equine.
• Be capable of maintaining a good level of training for the equines to ensure they are safe for RDA use.
Volunteering is an invaluable part of career development and a great way to enter the working world. There are many pathways into the conservation sector but having substantial volunteer experience on your CV will always benefit you in the long run. I hope in sharing my experiences it will help you to see how you can develop not only practical skills for the future but bring out the best of your people skills which are transferable to any career path.
PROW Explorer Calvert Trust Calvert Trust Lakes Coach Instructor Lake District National Park North Pennines AONB Northumberland National Park Northumberland Wildlife Trust Ramblers Riding for the Disabled theramblers Volunteer Volunteering volunteers