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Arnside & Silverdale AONB has been running a successful volunteer programme for over 25 years, during which time the range of volunteer tasks has expanded from conservation work parties to include delivering newsletters, updating the website and species monitoring. Volunteers are taken on aged between 16 to 80 and come from all different walks of life: students who want to develop a career in the countryside sector; unemployed people looking to develop skills; and many retired folk who want to keep active, ‘give something back’ and enjoy the camaraderie and social aspects of volunteering.
The volunteer programme was set up as part of the Manpower Services Commission by the then AONB project officer, Geoff Redgrave, who ran ten conservation projects locally. This saw local, often unskilled, people trained in practical skills such as the use of chainsaws.
Tony Riden, Countryside Officer for the AONB, has managed the volunteer programme since 1993, and the range of activities has broadened to include:
Volunteers are recruited:
On applying [application form], volunteers are asked for two character references which are reviewed before an offer of a volunteer position is made. On acceptance, volunteers are given a full induction [induction checklist]; covering a detailed Health and Safety briefing; description of the types of activities undertaken; introduction to AONB staff in the office; and a conversation about the volunteer’s background, interests and hopes from their role. During the induction they are provided with a welcome pack which includes a welcome letter [link], a copy of the volunteering policy [link] detailing expectations and responsibilities for both volunteers and the AONB unit, as well as general information for interest.
The programme has numerous benefits for the AONB and for the volunteers: the core idea is to involve the local community and help people to make a difference in an area they love, while helping the AONB unit to do more (particularly conservation work) on a limited budget.
Full instructions are given to volunteers on starting a task or project, and for conservation tasks, a comprehensive verbal description of the day’s planned activity and risk assessment is given to ensure safety during work.
For larger tasks, a volunteer may be delegated responsibility for a smaller team (suitability for supervisory roles is outlined in the volunteering policy). Volunteers supply their own clothes, so are encouraged to wear old, weather appropriate outfits. Safety equipment is provided, such as hi vis tabards, leather work gloves, visors etc. depending on the activity. Volunteers can buy safety boots on a 50/50 basis with the AONB contributing half the money.
The main selling point of the volunteer programme is the AONB itself – giving people the opportunity to contribute and to spend time in the beautiful landscape with like-minded people.
In addition to this the volunteers benefit from training opportunities to build their own skills and to increase the pool of skilled volunteers the AONB can call on. Training can include first aid at work, or rural skills, such as dry-stone walling, hedge-laying, leading guided walks, and occasionally more skilled training such as brush-cutter and chain-saw machine use and maintenance.
The success of the programme is due to:
Quote from project manager
“The volunteers’ efforts are crucial to the AONB meeting Management Plan objectives – many our activities would be impossible without their commitment. The volunteers are a great set of kind people, willing to give their time and effort to the worthy cause of helping look the special qualities of the AONB.” Tony Riden, Arnside & Silverdale AONB Countryside Officer
Quote from participant
“Volunteering with the AONB has deepened my knowledge of my fascinating local area. It has also changed my path in life. I have learned new skills such as walling, hedgelaying and chainsaw work – all of which I’m putting to use in the area in my new career in conservation.” Jim Turner, Arnside & Silverdale AONB ranger and conservation farmer
Key search words: Volunteering, conservation, community engagement
Photo Credits: Arnside & Silverdale AONB (via Twitter).