Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Celebrating Volunteers

A January gathering of outdoor volunteers at Hinchingbrooke Country Park
In the District Council, we probably have over 200 volunteers who carry out a broad range of activities at our Countryside sites.

We added up our volunteer effort for last financial year and it came to 3433 man/days. This figure just includes our outdoor volunteers and our Voluntary Wardens. In an average month we have over 120 man-days of voluntary effort at Paxton Pits alone and Hinchingbrooke Country Park has a similar figure. Smaller sites like the Nursery, Holt Island, Coneygear Park and Barford Road Pocket Park all have volunteer programs that local people can get involved in.

This year we are including the invisible volunteers who work in the background on committees and so on. There's a bit of guesswork involved, but, with two months still to go, we have had 4883 Volunteer Days for the financial year 2011 -2012 !!

From the volunteer's standpoint, it's good to get involved for social reasons, and simply getting out and about has its benefits in terms of physical and mental health. From the staff point of view, we simply couldn't manage without our volunteers. Each site has its own Friends Group and the one at Paxton Pits Nature Reserve is by far the biggest, with over 2,500 members.This is a powerful advocacy tool but also a great fund-raising organisation which provides the core of our volunteer effort.

Jocelyn Gale (in green) leading a botany walk.
Of course, a large volunteer programme has to be co-ordinated and serviced. All of the Rangers get involved but we have volunteer coordinators who are volunteers themselves!  One of the key jobs is organising the volunteer rotas for manning the Visitors' Centre. For as long as I can remember, this job has been carried out by Jocelyn Gale who also happens to be our top botanist. When she started, the job was relatively simple, with only a handful of volunteers manning the centre three or four days a week. Now that we have become a seven day a week operation the task has become enormous and Jocelyn has been helped in the background by David Chappel.

In January, Jocelyn left to go to Australia for 3 months and handed over her role to Nicki Papworth who will be assisted by Mavis Battey.  We are extremely grateful to Jos for all the work she has done for the Voluntary Wardens and for the reserve and we will make a big fuss of her when she comes back!