Cotswolds Volunteer Coordinator Rebecca Jones chats about life, work, people and her ‘shock’ at being awarded an MBE

When Rebecca (Becky) Jones, Volunteer and Access Lead at the Cotswolds National Landscape (CNL), received an email from the Honours and Appointments Secretary at the Cabinet Office notifying her she was to be awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) she was ‘immediately suspicious and thought it was a scam,’ she recalls.

Fortunately, after several re-readings of the email, she didn’t delete it, although even after publication of HM The Queen’s Birthday Honours list in June, and congratulatory letters from the Lord-Lieutenant of Oxfordshire and from Defra, Becky still found it ‘quite a shock’ that she was being honoured for her services to volunteering and the environment. When we speak she is awaiting the date of her award ceremony, wondering which Royal she will get to meet. Perhaps then ‘it will sink in,’ she says.

Becky has been working with Cotswold Voluntary Wardens (the volunteer arm of CNL) to oversee conservation and access matters right across the Cotswolds for nearly three decades. Not one normally to seek the spotlight, she has been a little stunned by the (well-deserved) congratulations from friends and colleagues.

‘The award has made me stop and look back at my time in the Cotswolds, what has been done and achieved,’ she says. ‘I’ve known some of the voluntary wardens since I began working here in 1994; they are like extended family.’

Great British Life: Rebecca JonesRebecca Jones (Image: (C)Russell Sach - 0771 882 6138)


Becky grew up in Hertfordshire and developed a passion for nature and conservation from an early age.

‘I had a real soft spot for David Attenborough and I watched all his programmes. It sounds corny but he was the one who introduced me to natural history. I was really into birds and was a member of the Young Ornithologists Club [the junior wing of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds]. I also remember doing things like going down to the local field and nature reserve collecting tadpoles.’

After agricultural college, Becky was volunteering with Hertfordshire Countryside Service when she got to hear about a job vacancy for an assistant ranger with the Countryside Service in the Cotswolds – a predecessor of today’s CNL. She successfully applied and nearly 30 years on, ‘I’m still here,’ she laughs.

Since married and with two children, she adds, ‘The Cotswolds is a fantastic place to live, work and bring up children.’

Great British Life: Rebecca Jones MBERebecca Jones MBE (Image: (C)Russell Sach - 0771 882 6138)


As an assistant ranger, Becky ‘did anything and everything that came up’: leading guided walks, working on the upkeep of paths with volunteer parties, publicity and media. ‘Among my first tasks was to walk, check and revise one of our self-guided routes around Painswick, and then create a new one around Stow-on-the-Wold. So I’ve been involved with access matters right from the start.’

Later, when rangers were discontinued, Becky focused on coordinating volunteers, organising training, tools and managing budgets. She recalls with a smile ‘the early days of introducing new safety procedures’ –

‘There were a lot of ex-RAF and ex-Army people in the volunteers at the time, including a rear gunner of a Lancaster Bomber and someone who had been shot down in World War Two. There I was in my 20s, in a training session, talking to these people about safety on a bow saw. It felt like a strange comedy. They probably thought the whole thing absolutely ridiculous but they were very polite, real gentlemen – Old School.

‘I learnt a lot about the war through them,’ Becky continues. ‘And I’ve learnt about many other things since through volunteers: they come from all walks of life and bring their different experiences. I’ve heard so many stories that I’ve been on the verge of writing a book.’

Great British Life: Rebecca Jones with volunteers working on the Cotswolds TrailsRebecca Jones with volunteers working on the Cotswolds Trails (Image: (C)Russell Sach - 0771 882 6138)


Through numerous organisational changes, and with no predecessor for her role today, Becky has carved out a varied job, harnessing the energy of volunteers to help look after the Cotswolds. Originally set up in the late 1960s, the Cotswold Voluntary Wardens have grown to more than 400 in number and Becky has been instrumental in helping them to become a ‘self-managing’ organisation working closely with the CNL team.

‘The structure of self managing works really well, with wardens divided into five districts, and a head and deputy head warden. We work closely together and run ideas past each other. A lot of other protected landscapes are envious of our self-managing volunteer structure because it’s unique.’

Building on now-firmly-established health, safety and emergency first aid courses, plus careful record-keeping, Becky has developed opportunities for volunteer wardens to train in more technical skills ranging from dry stone walling to hedgelaying and chainsaw use. She has also encouraged a partnership working ethic with the likes of Highways and Public Rights of Way teams, and she is grateful to the ‘fantastic’ Cotswold Way Association charity that provides support on practical projects.

There have been many achievements: in their 40th anniversary year in 2008 the voluntary wardens created a series of ‘walks on wheels’ and they continue to champion ‘more access for all’, for example working with the Disabled Ramblers charity. The Cotswold Gateways project of more than 30 walking and cycling routes around towns and villages (on which Becky tirelessly collaborated) has encouraged many more people to explore the countryside on their doorstep.

In a typical year wardens lead over 300 guided walks and in their 50th anniversary year (2018), when they clocked up nearly 50,000 hours of voluntary work, they received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

‘The strength of the organisation is also in situations when we have to react and adapt,’ Becky says. ‘During the Foot and Mouth outbreak [2001, when countryside access was restricted] we created a programme of town and village walks. During the Covid pandemic lockdown we moved our training online and whenever possible managed to get our volunteer groups out to continue their work.’

Great British Life: Rebecca Jones has been awarded the MBE for her services to the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural BeautyRebecca Jones has been awarded the MBE for her services to the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Image: (C)Russell Sach - 0771 882 6138)


Keen to ‘sow the seed’ among the younger generation on whom the future of the countryside and conservation depends, Becky initiated the education ‘branch’ of the voluntary warden body. This has included activities to reach out to youth with no experience of rural life – for example, volunteers took pupils from an inner-city Oxford primary school into the countryside where they encountered farm animals for the first time. ‘It opened their minds to the possibilities of working in the countryside.’

A pilot project with The Prince’s Trust, aimed at young people struggling socially and educationally, was another success. ‘We offered them a programme of activities to try to build their confidence, giving them a taster of what they could do in the countryside, like bushcraft, stone carving and thatching. On the back of that one [participant] went on to train as a stone mason.

‘Going forward,’ Becky says, ‘I want to encourage more people, including younger people, to be actively involved with the countryside and conservation.’

Great British Life: Rebecca Jones MBERebecca Jones MBE (Image: (C)Russell Sach - 0771 882 6138)


Whether attending wardens’ quarterly meetings across all five districts, or checking in with them when they are unwell, Becky is a warmly respected team worker, as Head Warden Margaret Reid confirms: ‘Becky’s personal touch means that every warden knows her. We can all testify to her hard work and to her devotion to the work she does.’

Andy Parsons, CNL Chief Executive, agrees, and speaks for all Becky’s colleagues when he says: ‘Seeing her awarded with an MBE is absolutely brilliant – she truly deserves it. Congratulations Becky!’


  • What do you most enjoy about your job? ‘The people that I work with.’
  • And the least? ‘Sitting in front of a computer!’
  • Your favourite part of the Cotswolds? ‘I love the open landscape views around Shipton-under-Wychwood where I live and the colours in autumn after fields have been harvested.’
  • Spring and summer? ‘I love the colour and light of being in beech woodlands in spring – those around Cranham are fantastic. In summer I love the small intimate Stroud valleys.’
  • What about walking? ‘I like the variety of the Cotswold Way, from lovely little villages to expansive farmland and dense woodlands.’
  • How do you relax? ‘Gardening or playing badminton.’
  • When will you write your book? ‘Perhaps when I retire...’