Gatwick Greenspace Partnership volunteer
What motivated me to volunteer: ‘Why do it?’
Keeping fit and healthy must top my list. OK it’s cheaper than joining a gym. But how do you learn what to do to be helpful? As soon as I retired, I signed up for a series of practical training courses with The Conservation Volunteers and Plumpton College.
I learned coppicing, hedge-laying and how to make post-and-rail fencing from scratch. I found charcoal burning was the most satisfying and dry-stone walling was the most difficult. Qualifying for the chain-saw register gave me added confidence.
I became fit, lost weight and developed arm muscles I never knew I had. Looking back, I had exchanged acrid exhaust fumes for clean countryside air.
Six years on, are you learning anything new?
Two years ago I started participating in Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Shoresearch survey events: learning about species of marine life that I surveyed along the Sussex coast between Chichester Harbour to the Seven Sisters. Previously I knew nothing about marine biology. Now, with survey results to hand for each site, I've become more aware of marine life living inside rock pools.
What do you think are the benefits that people ought to know about?
Spreading best practices is a good example. For Spring, conservation groups remove bracken to allow heather to flourish - beneficial for bees. During Summer we remove invasive plant species like Himalayan Balsam during May/June to protect indigenous plants growing along watercourses. In Autumn we dig ponds to facilitate more dragonflies like the southern hawker. During Winter we thin out silver birch and coppice hazel to make dead hedges that provide good habitat especially if laid over decaying wood. Practically I volunteered to help Horsham Green Gym install many of the 18 benches around Horsham’s Riverside Walk (12 miles circular.)
What was the best piece of advice you were offered?
Expecting every day to feel like a Saturday was great advice. Epic change had made me lose contact with everyone I knew in London. I joined several conservation groups including the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership and Horsham Green Gym. I found that was a good way to meet new people and tell them about how I thought I was making a difference - as part of a team. Privately I became a little worried that I might be taking someone else’s job. But I need not have worried once I discovered that rangers say what needs doing and wardens organise groups of volunteers to carry out specific conservation tasks effectively.
How do you celebrate success?
Members treat each other to cakes to celebrate birthdays. Annually, Gatwick Greenspace Partnership provides a cooked Xmas meal over a woodland fire. Horsham Green Gym holds a Summer BBQ and a Christmas meal in a local restaurant. Separately as an ‘ARC’ rivers project participant, I enjoyed an evening reception at Arundel Castle. Personally, it's been satisfying to realise how many like-minded people I’d met through nature conservation. I'm never alone.