The Countrycare Volunteer Group
Volunteers are the lifeblood of Countrycare. Since 1986, over 139,000 volunteer hours have been given to the service. This amounts to an enormous £863,000 worth of time.
It goes without saying that without this fantastic support, only a fraction of the work would have been possible. However, we always need more help so if you have any spare time why not give it a go - get fit and do your bit for the environment.
Volunteers are involved in the whole spectrum of tasks undertaken by the Service ranging from habitat management work such as pond restoration, to building paths and countryside furniture and bridges. Not only are there benefits to the wider community and wildlife, but the volunteers benefit greatly too in improved heath and sense of well being. There is increasing evidence coming forward that clearly demonstrates contact with wildlife and physical exercise outdoors enhances people’s health both mentally and physically. Help is always needed, so if you fancy getting involved in practical conservation work why not give it a try? There are always tasks to suit all ages and abilities.
How do I Volunteer with Countrycare?
Countrycare organises a working party for volunteers every Thursday, occasional Tuesdays and occasional weekends. Full details of all our projects can be found on our events calendar. Alternatively you can contact Countrycare and talk to a member of staff.
We also try and to do occasional social days out which includes visits to other Nature Reserves and sites of interest. The last two summers we have given the volunteers a guided walk with a picnic. These highlighted how the sites are connected rather being seen in isolation.
What do the working parties do?
Throughout the year we undertake a whole range of tasks, but our main activities are:
This may involve felling some trees and coppicing others. Coppicing is the practice of cutting trees at ground level, which causes them to bush out as they re-grow, giving improved cover for wildlife. Some of the cut wood may be used to create dead hedges or as stakes for hedge laying projects.
Hedgerow management can range from planting the hedge or filling in gaps in an existing hedge to carrying out hedge laying. Hedge laying involves cutting part-way through the trunk of the shrubs and trees in the hedge, and laying them at a 45 degree angle. They are then supported by banging in stakes of wood harvested from woodland work. Hedge laying gives a hedge a very distinctive appearance and also helps to thicken it, making it more attractive to wildlife.
Countrycare manages a number of sites as wildflower meadows. We take hay cut from them each year which helps reduce nutrient levels and, therefore, competition from other grassland species. Grassland work also takes place in a number of churchyards around the District.
Ponds need management to prevent them from becoming silted up, and it is often advantageous to modify the slope of an existing pond’s edge to make it more suitable for wildlife. Countrycare also creates ponds on some sites to add to the range of habitats that the area offers.
Where is the work done?
Countrycare works on sites throughout the Epping Forest District but only occasionally in the forest itself, which is managed by the City of London (Epping Forest). Work is done on over 23 sites mostly owned by the District Council, landowners and Parish Councils, nine of which are Local Nature Reserves. The sites are very varied including ancient woodland, flood meadows and even sites that were once waste ground that are having wildlife habitats created on them.
When are the work days and do I have to come every week?
Our main volunteer day is Thursday and we go out every week except between Christmas and New Year. We also do occasional weekend work. It is entirely up to you whether you come out every week, once a month or whenever you have a day free. There is no official membership and everyone is welcome.
How do I get to the work site?
For all the Thursday projects there is a 9.30am pick-up in the Countrycare Landrover at Loughton Station and return at the end of the day, usually by 4.30pm. Otherwise you can make your own way to the published meet point . Many of our volunteers have made arrangements to share cars.
What do I need to bring?
Countrycare projects are often messy so old clothes are the best option. A waterproof jacket and over-trousers (if you have them) are also very useful, as are wellington boots or sturdy walking boots, preferably with steel toecaps, but this is not essential. Tea and biscuits are supplied three times a day, but you will need to bring your own lunch and any cold drinks you may want. All the necessary tools are supplied, as is all the training and support that you will need to complete the project.
What happens if the weather is bad?
Whatever the weather, the Countrycare staff will always be at the pick up and meeting points. Projects are not usually abandoned because of rain, which is why waterproofs are necessary, but if working conditions become unsafe the decision will be taken to stop working for the day.
Do volunteers get involved in any other activities apart from the working parties?
Each summer Countrycare gives the volunteers a break from the usual tasks and offers them a guided walk or similar with a picnic. In December, there is an outdoor Christmas lunch following a morning’s work. There is also an opportunity to help participate in some of the special events Countrycare organises for school children and families.
Do I need previous experience?
No - all volunteers are supervised by Countrycare staff who give clear instructions and training for each task that you are asked to do. Many of the regular volunteers are experienced and as most jobs are done in small teams, one of them will work with you.
Some of the jobs sound like heavy work. Will I be able to cope?
There is usually a sufficient variety of jobs to keep everyone occupied with tasks to suit all and jobs are rotated so that everyone gets a break.