A look at the work of the volunteers at the Cheshire Wildlife Trust

A team of volunteers repairing fencing at Bankfield Farm. Picture by Richard Gardner

A team of volunteers repairing fencing at Bankfield Farm. Picture by Richard Gardner - Credit: Richard Gardner

In times of crisis it is often volunteers rather than professionals who step into the breach. Katie Piercy from Cheshire Wildlife Trust finds out what some of the charity’s enthusiastic volunteers do for the cause

Volunteers celebrate another day’s work on the mossland at Delamere. Picture by Heather Hulse

Volunteers celebrate another day’s work on the mossland at Delamere. Picture by Heather Hulse - Credit: Heather Hulse

According to the most recent survey by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, almost a third of England’s adult population give up their time once a month to charities and other voluntary organisations – that’s 12.7million volunteers. The conservation sector, built on the backs of keen amateur birders and backyard botanists, has a special attachment and need of these helping hands.

With over 400 volunteers, the Cheshire Wildlife Trust certainly doesn’t buck the trend when it comes to welcoming volunteers into every aspect of its work. Volunteers have brought the Trust to its current position as Cheshire’s largest independent conservation charity, but what does this volunteering look like?

Maintaining our wildlife reserves

Having retired from a world of factories, meetings and computers Peter Snape was looking for a complete change, when he came across the Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Reserves volunteer groups. Five years later Peter has helped maintain reedbeds through traditional cut and burn methods, cleared scrub from rare mosslands and pulled more invasive Himalayan balsam than he can shake a stick at.

Teenage volunteer Beth Williams. Picture by Austin Morley

Teenage volunteer Beth Williams. Picture by Austin Morley - Credit: Austin Morley

‘I enjoy the happy comradeship and light-hearted conversation with the like-minded volunteers,’ he said. ‘I also like the physical aspect of the work as it keeps me fit and active.’ With over 40 reserves across the county, the reserves team has their work cut out, and regular volunteer days are a key tool for keeping these wildlife sites in tip-top condition.

Keeping things shipshape at the office

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A science teacher for 35 years, Jackie Davies started volunteering on reception at Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s head office in Bickley in order to spend more time on her long term passion, British wildlife. ‘I wanted a change after working with teenagers for so many years,’ Jackie said. ‘And I really love the work I’ve been doing here, particularly answering queries from members of the public. I find the staff here really hard working and enthusiastic and I’ve learnt so much since starting my volunteer work, not just about wildlife but also IT skills.’

Housing a staff of over 30, Bickley is the hub for all of the Trust’s work, a place where grants are applied for, volunteer days are coordinated and data analysed. For all this, reception is the first port of call for visitors, members of the public and visiting officials. ‘My volunteering role is always appreciated by all and I wouldn’t change anything about it,’ Jackie added.

Former teacher Jackie Davies is the first person many visitors meet at the Trust’s headquarters.

Former teacher Jackie Davies is the first person many visitors meet at the Trust’s headquarters. - Credit: Austin Morley

Getting the community involved

For your average 18-year-old spending their weekends and holidays volunteering might not be their idea of fun, but not for Beth Williams, who has completed over 200 hours assisting on Cheshire Wildlife Trust events. ‘My favourite part is making crafts with the children such as bat hats and clay reindeer,’ Beth said. Whether it be manning a stand at a local show, helping prepare materials or getting hands-on with colouring crayons Beth’s enthusiasm never wanes. ‘I like constantly trying new things because you never know what you might enjoy,’ she added.

Living Landscapes: Creating places for wildlife in the wider countryside

David and Terry Summers prove the old adage that couples that play together stay together. Volunteering for the Gowy Connect project for the past two years David and Terry have been busy planting hedgerows and mending fences to help protect this important river, home to otters and water voles among other wildlife. ‘We both enjoy the outdoor life and are passionate about the environment so volunteering is perfect for us as we feel that we can make a difference,’ said David.

Volunteer Hannah Petrie hard at work. Picture by Austin Morley

Volunteer Hannah Petrie hard at work. Picture by Austin Morley - Credit: Austin Morley

In its three years the Gowy Connect project has worked with 18 landowners along the River Gowy to create interconnected habitats, allowing wildlife to move freely through the landscape and thrive in new areas across the countryside. ‘We’ve certainly learnt a lot through this work, and wouldn’t change a thing about volunteering, although it would be nice if we could order sunshine for the work days,’ added David.

Hannah Petrie joined the Delamere Mossland Volunteers in order to return to her roots as an avid volunteer after five years at home looking after her two children. ‘I thought rather than sit at home worrying about the state of the planet we are handing to our children I should go and do something about it myself,’ she said.

Restoring mosslands (more commonly known as bogs), one of the UK’s rarest habitats isn’t for the faint-hearted, but keen wildlife enthusiast Hannah is used to mucking around in compost and mud, and not afraid of a wet sock every now and then.

Delamere’s mosslands are over 10,000 years old and home to many wonderful creatures such as the carnivorous sundew. Nestled among the forest, these nationally important wetland sites were almost lost though drainage and scrub encroachment, but in 2013 the Cheshire Wildlife Trust, in partnership with the Forestry Commission, began a project restoring these rare and amazing places. ‘It’s definitely something new and interesting,’ Hannah said. ‘Turning up at the school gates covered in muck and mud certainly raises some questions but everyone’s always so interested once I tell them what I’ve been up to.’

Bringing wildlife back to our countryside

When not getting muddy assisting on the Gowy Connect project, John Roberts spends his time counting that most fascinating of species – the dragonfly. The white-faced darter dragonfly is the UK’s second smallest species, specialised to cold northern climates and, almost exclusively, mosslands. Once a common feature of Delamere Forest it was lost in 2003 through damage to the habitat which supported it. In 2013 a re-introduction started on this charismatic species and, an enthusiastic volunteer from the start of the project, John has been captivated by them ever since.

‘Most of us need to feel part of something larger. CWT has allowed me to fill a gap which was created when I retired, and to re-discover my fascination with insects, nature’s perfect little machines,’ John said. Whether trudging through wetlands in waders, wandering through heathlands counting shimmering pairs of wings or expanding his knowledge through courses, John is well on his way to becoming a citizen scientist.

Many hands make light work

Annually the Cheshire Wildlife Trust celebrates its volunteers through the Eric Thurston awards, however, perhaps the greatest gift any volunteer can receive for their efforts is the chance to walk hand in hand with their grandchildren, or shoulder to shoulder with a friend, to a green corner of this county, pointing out to them the birds and flowers which flourish there. The survival, success and continuation of such places has long been in the hands of the individuals who care for them, be they volunteers, landowners or the staff of charities such as the Cheshire Wildlife Trust.

Pick up any English two pound coin today and you will see inscribed on its edge the words ‘standing on the shoulders of giants.’ This quote, once famously used by Sir Isaac Newton, teaches us that our achievements are built on those of the people who came before us. There can be nowhere where this is truer than in conservation, a sector founded, continued and supported by the enthusiasm and helping hands of generations of willing volunteers.

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