New nature skills hub for UK’s largest wildlife volunteer project

Tuesday 7th July 2015

The Wild Skill Group outside the new Volunteer Training Centre credit Becky Corby

Sir David Attenborough pays tribute to The Wildlife Trusts’ 40,000 nature volunteers at exemplar centre

The volunteer experience has changed my life for the better and I am so pleased to be involved

Sir David Attenborough officially opened the UK’s largest wildlife Volunteer Training Centre today, celebrating the thousands of nature enthusiasts in the UK who give their free time to help protect and care for the natural world.

The new hub will be a boon for the 400 volunteers who give 35,000 hours each year to Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust’s Rutland Water nature reserve, the largest wildlife volunteer project in the country.  In the past 25 years volunteers have dedicated 691,512 hours or 86,439 days or 237 years to Rutland Water nature reserve.

From osprey guarding and surveillance, bird-ringing to dry stone-walling and hedge-laying to wildlife-recording, the new Volunteer Training Centre, at Rutland Water Nature Reserve, will provide an extraordinary range of opportunities for people to gain new skills and enjoy time outdoors.  It will offer training and support for volunteers in nature conservation, countryside and heritage skills.

Active contact with nature can help prevent and cure health problems. People who live near and experience green spaces have a 50% chance of being more healthy, both physically and mentally, and are 40% less likely to become overweight or obese.  The Wildlife Trusts’ volunteers are getting back in touch with the natural environment, helping it to recover. This contact with nature also makes a big difference to many people’s lives.

If you'd like to learn new skills and take action for wildlife: find out more about volunteering here

More than 43,000 people volunteer for The Wildlife Trusts across the UK giving an average of 16 days each every year.  Their vital work breathes life into the 2,300 nature reserves cared for by The Wildlife Trusts and makes a huge contribution towards the activities and events that make it possible for a far greater number of people to enjoy closer encounters with the natural world. In 2014 alone, there were 7,400,000 visits to Wildlife Trust nature reserves.

Sir David will meet many of the active volunteers who have played an important role at Rutland Water Nature Reserve in recent years.  With more than 80,000 visitors each year, this internationally important wetland relies heavily on the people who give their free time to help this beautiful wild landscape thrive – it is famous for its osprey project as well as being a magnet for other wildlife from waterfowl to water voles.

President Emeritus of The Wildlife Trusts, Sir David Attenborough spent his formative years exploring the Leicestershire countryside on his bicycle, in search of its animals, plants and fossils. He says:  “The Wildlife Trusts are giving countless people the chance to experience wildlife in their everyday lives.  Rutland Water is a wonderful example of how volunteers play a vital role in protecting the UK’s wildlife.  The new Volunteer Training Centre will help even more people – of all ages – to make a really positive difference. I’m sure they will gain immense pleasure from doing so.”

People of all ages and backgrounds now have opportunities to get involved in an exciting and innovative range of learning opportunities in this new purpose-built facility.  Funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund with further contributions from Anglian Water, charitable trusts and a public appeal, the Centre has been designed to sit comfortably and sympathetically in its natural setting within Rutland Water Nature Reserve.  There’s a workshop with storage for tools and equipment, bunk rooms for residential courses, a kitchen and mess room, wash-rooms and drying facilities plus training, learning and meeting areas.

A team of 150 volunteers help to monitor osprey nests at Rutland Water following a successful translocation project involving these magnificent birds which began in 1996.  Chris Ditchburn has volunteered for the past five years and travelled with project team members to see the ospreys on their wintering grounds in West Africa and help set-up a wildlife education project for schools there.  He said: “Volunteering has broadened my horizons and helped me to make a positive difference not only in the UK but also in The Gambia. Volunteering is a great way to meet like-minded people and I’ve made life-long friends through the osprey project.”

Simon Bentley, Director of Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, said: “Volunteers contribute an extraordinary 35,000 hours at Rutland Water each year and we hope that the new Centre will serve as the hub of an active, supportive community in which volunteers of all ages and backgrounds can participate and make a real difference to our natural heritage, to their lives and to Rutland Water and other nature reserves in the area.  The Centre will deliver an exciting and innovative range of learning opportunities, from dry-stone walling and hedge-laying, to bird ringing and wildlife recording.”

The volunteers are at the heart of everything that happens there – so we're really excited to be able to support a purpose-built centre to invest in their skills

Peter Simpson, Anglian Water Chief Executive, said: “We have been proud to support the work of Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust at Rutland over the years as it has created a real haven for nature.  The volunteers are at the heart of everything that happens there – so we were really excited to be able to support a purpose built centre to invest in their volunteers’ skills.

“Rutland Water supplies hundreds of thousands of households in East Anglia, and it is also a thriving home for wildlife.  It is an ideal example of how businesses and charities can work together for the benefit of nature.  The opening of this centre will help ensure it remains a special place for wildlife for many years to come.”

Tim Appleton, Rutland Water nature reserve manager, said: “Since I recruited our first volunteer way back in 1975, all have since have played an integral role at the reserve.  Our figures show that, over the past 25 years, volunteers have dedicated an incredible 680,000 hours – that’s the equivalent of 237 years of one person’s time!  Quite clearly, it just wouldn’t be the place it is today without them.”

David Cole has volunteered for Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust since the conception of Rutland Water Nature Reserve in the late 1970s.  He said: “I’ve been fortunate to see the nature reserve develop into one of the best places for wildlife in the UK.  It has been a privilege to share my skills with countless young volunteers who have gone on to careers in conservation.  I hope the new centre will encourage more people to share their knowledge in the same way.”

Oli Grice-Jackson, who has recently completed a Volunteer Trainee Reserve Officer post at Rutland Water, said: “Thanks to my experience and the qualifications I achieved through volunteering, I now have a new job with an ecological consultancy company and feel more motivated to take on new challenges.  Meeting Sir David Attenborough is a once in a life time opportunity. I feel like I have received something for my giving.  The volunteer experience has changed my life for the better and I am so pleased to be involved.”

René Olivieri, Chair of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “We are very proud of our army of volunteers – more than 43,000 people of all ages and backgrounds – who care for and improve local wild places, and their positive action benefits us all.  With the official opening of the Volunteer Training Centre at Rutland Water nature reserve, we hope many more will continue to be inspired by wildlife.  It’s wonderful to know this facility will help to bring through the next generation of volunteers, offering so many exciting opportunities to learn new skills, improve their local environments and have fun at the same time.

You can find out more about volunteering with The Wildlife Trusts here.

Image credits:  Becky Corby, Eric Renno, John Wright

Tagged with: Volunteering