Natural England
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Report highlights the true value of volunteering

Many environmental organisations depend on the support of committed and enthusiastic volunteers and, coinciding with Volunteers’ Week, new research published yesterday by Natural England has revealed the true value of their help. 

Using guidance and a measuring formula developed over the last 16 years by the Institute of Volunteering Research, a Volunteer Investment and Value Audit for 2011 discovered that 3000 Natural England volunteers provided over 29,300 working days, which has a market value of over £3.5 million.  Further analysis showed that for every £1 spent on supporting volunteers – through training, providing equipment and transport  - a value of £8.48 is returned. 

Essential tasks are carried out by volunteers for Natural England on the organisation’s many National Nature Reserves every week include;

  • providing advice to visitors and helping at events,

  • planting trees or cutting them back to clear pathways,

  • monitoring and surveying species and habitats,

  • leading guided walks,

  • taking photographs and helping with art or interpretation projects,

  • monitoring livestock to keep them healthy and safe,

  • creating new ponds, paths and carrying out repairs to fencing

Natural England’s Executive Director Jim Smyllie said; “My heartfelt thanks and appreciation go out to all our volunteers for their time, unfailing enthusiasm and commitment to looking after our wildlife and natural environment.  We now know the true value of their support but really it is priceless to us - the benefits to us all and the environment are far reaching – and there for anyone to see when they visit our National Nature Reserves.”

Justin Davis Smith, Chief Executive of Volunteering England, said: “During Volunteers’ Week we celebrate the more than 20 million people who donate over 100 million hours to their communities every week. It has been estimated that the economic value of this activity is worth in excess of £40 billion to our economy. As Natural England has found, the value of volunteers far outweighs the investment needed to ensure they are well supported.”

Case Study –Castle Eden Dean National Nature Reserve, Durham
Located on the edge of Durham’s urban fringe, this woodland reserve has been left to spread and sprawl through this deep gorge for over 10,000 years.  It’s now the largest area of semi-natural woodland in north-east England, and is famous for its majestic yew trees, folklore and fantastic stands of ancient oak and ash.

Volunteer impact on the reserve in 2011

  • 50 practical conservation days averaging 4 volunteers per day

  • 12 Junior Conservation task days carried out by the award winning ‘Dene Team’ (2008 Youth Group of the Year)

  • The Dene Team also work with the Marine Conservation Society for their annual coastal litter survey

  • 50 guided walks and 24 public events aided by volunteers

  • Volunteers are solely responsible for monitoring the 12 miles of footpath in the reserve

  • In partnership with Butterfly Conservation, the volunteers carry out weekly surveys during spring and summer

  • Volunteers carry out pollution monitoring of Castle Eden Burn – taking water samples, monitoring the stream bed and recording invertebrates

  • In addition to the already generous offer of their time, the volunteers have also raised £1500 for local good causes and charities

Castle Eden Dene NNR has worked with a number of groups to support volunteers who benefit greatly from the personal impact of being involved.  Groups include MIND, Mental Health Matters, Rehab UK, Phoenix Futures and the East Durham Trust

Joe Davies, Lead Adviser at Castle Eden NNR, explained that being a volunteer is truly ‘life-changing’ for some people.  One particular volunteer began his involvement four years ago and was at the time being treated for depression and anxiety.  Joe says that when he first arrived his volunteer was quiet and lacked confidence. 

“Volunteering has had a direct effect on this guy’s self esteem and he has completed level 2 & 3 NVQs in environmental work.  He volunteers on an almost daily basis and helps with practical tasks, events, shows and organised groups. He is a shining example of how volunteering has the power to not only change an individual’s life circumstances but also to make a positive contribution to wider society.” 

Joe recalls the volunteer reflecting on his achievements and saying that he never imagined he could be capable of so much or be so highly valued by others.  He has recently started studying for an Open University degree, is actively seeking work and still manages to find time to lead volunteer groups and organise surveys for BTO, Marine Conservation Society and Butterfly Conservation.

Case study - Bat roost monitoring
Natural England also relies on 1069 voluntary bat roost visitors who provide an essential service for Natural England, enabling the organisation to meet its statutory duty to provide evidence-based advice about these protected species. The visits require a high level of skill and knowledge, and tackling tricky situations – from exploring loft spaces to peering into church spires and helping people who can be concerned or upset by discovering bats in their property. This highly skilled voluntary work is vital for fulfilling our statutory duty.

As part of our ongoing programme of investing in these valued volunteers, last year Natural England developed a health and safety training programme targeting the most active bat roost visitors. This helped increase awareness of key risks - working at height, encountering asbestos and working alone - and how to keep safe.

Martin Rhodes, Lead Adviser for Volunteering said “The success of this training was down to ensuring we understood the bat roost visitor role and accommodated the volunteers. We ran it over two nights as the large majority of volunteers also have their day jobs to think about. Costs were kept down by running local training sessions at 17 of our offices. Feedback was so positive that we hope to repeat it with another batch of volunteers next year.”

More information about the Institute for Volunteering Research volunteer investment and value audit

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