Working with volunteers to maximise our impact
Arnside and 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.
- 40 current volunteers trained in First Aid
- Six trained in chainsaw operation
- Ten in brush-cutter operation
- 15 in hedge-laying
- Ten in dry-stone walling
- Roughly 800 volunteer days given per year
- 120 volunteers registered
- 30 volunteers turn out regularly for conservation tasks
- 25 butterfly survey volunteers, who give an average of about three hours a week.
What was done
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:
- managing nature reserves,
- habitat management in woodlands, species-rich grasslands, orchards and ponds
- installing footpath signposts, kissing-gates and improving access,
- hedge laying,
- dry stone walling,
- butterfly, bird, plant and other species recording and monitoring,
- nest-box maintenance and recording,
- litter picking,
- delivering AONB newsletters,
- distributing leaflets and posters,
- updating website information,
- marshalling events.
Volunteers are recruited:
- mainly via the ‘Get Involved’ area of the Arnside & Silverdale AONB website;
- through ‘Keer to Kent’ – the journal of the Arnside/Silverdale Landscape Trust (the AONB’s ‘friends of’ charity);
- via local newspaper articles (volunteer task reports etc); and,
- through word of mouth.
On applying, 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:
- The inspirational natural resource of the AONB and its special qualities,
- Having a dedicated volunteer team leader and structured volunteer policy and programme,
- Being clear where we need volunteer help,
- Having a policy outlining the responsibilities of both volunteers and the AONB to set expectations and give the volunteers’ roles more definition and value,
- Ensuring that any contribution is not onerous for volunteers – the scheme is therefore flexible about how people commit themselves. Keeping the arrangement flexible helps to maintain enthusiasm and maximise individuals’ impact,
- The induction conversation about the volunteer’s interests and background can in some cases lead to Tony recommending the volunteer to another organisation committed to achieving the AONB’s aims – eg RSPB, National Trust, Woodland Trust, in order to maximise the individual’s enjoyment. We’ve learnt that this can increase the longevity of involvement and the impact the volunteer can have on the AONB,
- Demonstrating appreciation of the volunteers’ efforts is crucial – many of the activities carried out by the AONB unit would be impossible without a committed team of volunteers. AONB staff are conscious of the need to thank volunteers for their involvement,
- Celebrating the success of the programme – a volunteers’ get together is held in the summer when volunteers are invited on a mid-summer outing guided walk close to the AONB with the AONB team, and are bought lunch. They are also invited to a ‘Jacob’s Join’ dinner at the end of the year.