Volunteers’ Week Special
Ian Nicholls, Director of Corporate Services
As most of you know, the first week of June is always Volunteers Week in the UK. The last 12 months have been unusual to say the least and thank you for bearing with us as we have made decisions (not always popular!) about whether it was right for you to carry on volunteering in the wider context of the Covid 19 pandemic. In between the periods of time where there has been no volunteering, you have continued to deliver a fantastic range of work whether that has been helping our visitors enjoy the national park, carrying out practical work, or helping to record wildlife and diversity, either in the National Park or through the National Parks LookWild project.
Some of the contact with our visitors hasn’t always been easy, but the vast majority continue to be respectful, both of the National Park and those of us who work and volunteer in it.
I know that many of you have got more involved in volunteering in your communities while you have been unable to come into the North York Moors. Our work in the National Park is important, but helping our communities over the last 12 months has been a greater national priority and thank you for doing this.
Hopefully, we are moving towards the end of Covid 19 restrictions. It’s difficult to tell whether that will be on 21 June, as we all hope, or whether it will be a while longer yet. It doesn’t really matter as the main thing is that you will all be able to get back to volunteering in our National Park again as we move into summer.
With Joan and the team, we are starting to write a new strategy for volunteering – we have already sent you a questionnaire which will help to inform the early stages of this process. While we are likely to want to focus on the health and wellbeing impact of volunteering, we will certainly be continuing with our core volunteering as well as developing new ways for volunteering to contribute to our work.
Finally, I hope that you enjoy reading the articles in this newsletter as much as I have – they reflect the amazing work and people that give their time so freely to the North York Moors National Park.
Best wishes for the summer.
Why I Volunteer
Having been a life long volunteer with various environmental organisations I hope I can enthuse others to get involved.
Things that have kept me going are not just the ability to do something for the National Park, whether it be cutting back around footpaths, building steps, talking to people at country shows or showing family groups what our wonderful wildlife is about, but also the people I have worked with or have got to know. I have had the opportunity to make long term friends and find out what makes National Park staff so keen and dedicated and want to work with volunteers.
It is not all work! The Coasties group has an annual BBQ, other groups like the ‘gallery volunteers’ go for meals together and the Northern Rangers team has a Christmas cook out work task.
So whatever your skills or abilities, come and join us, you will be very welcome.
John Muir said that National Parks are as fountains of life; that’s the way I feel as a voluntary ranger walking in the great outdoors of the North York Moors, viewing the countryside, flora & fauna. It can be uplifting to the soul and refreshing to the spirit. It is also about giving of oneself on behalf of others and taking care of our National Parks for future generations. To me personally, there is more happiness in giving than receiving.
I found my first voluntary ranger patrols on the Cleveland Way to check the paths really enjoyable. It’s about knowing I am part of something bigger that will help to keep the National Park going.
I volunteer to put something back into the National Park in order to maintain the infrastructure. My most memorable moment is being invited into a neighbour’s garden and provided with a strawberry cream scone and coffee in appreciation of our work.
Robert, Volunteer for 5 years
Apart from helping physically with fitness, volunteering gives me a mental and spiritual uplift, its difficult to explain. There isn’t one key memorable moment, but memories include damp collars, wet and frozen boots, observing skeins of geese, deer in the woods and foxes on the moors, and the ever present sound of birds.
John, Volunteer for 18 years
I volunteer because I want to put something back into an environment which over the years has given me so much pleasure. I thoroughly enjoy working outdoors with some really great people.
Bob, Volunteer for four years
Volunteering has been excellent for my health and wellbeing.
Davy, volunteer for four years
I am a volunteer originally with the cycle wardens at Sutton Bank – however, since the pandemic I have been working on a new project – Virtual Walks. I am also working with the conservation team on photographing Levisham Estate.
I have enjoyed living close to the National Park for the past 45 years and being out in the beautiful moorland helps me to unwind and relax in a way a city can never provide. Planning my walks and mountain bike routes with maps and creating new routes beforehand is all part of the enjoyment and gives me the opportunity to practice my hobby of photography. Volunteering has been excellent for my health and wellbeing as it encourages me to get out and about 4-5 days a week.
The National Park is beautiful at all seasons – although I do think autumn and spring are especially gorgeous. The light and colours are incredible. Having worked in education for 40 years, mainly indoors, I was looking for something which could get me outside and keep me active when I chose to take early retirement. I volunteered as a cycle warden and this was enjoyable seeing how the team at Sutton Bank work, sharing their enthusiasm for encouraging the public to access the park and helping people when out and about.
When restrictions came with the pandemic, I began working with a small team to provide virtual walks to people who for whatever reason could not access the National Park. This was right up my path as it gave me the opportunity to explore new technology, record the walks with my camera, create virtual walk presentations and bring these to the homes of people. The feedback is really pleasing and obviously people enjoy these monthly walks. It has been helpful for me to think more carefully about what I see and photograph on my walks. I have begun to see things differently and will look for features or areas of historical interest which I know my ‘virtual walkers’ will enjoy. I have dug out my old local history books and guides and revisited these in researching the walks. This has often involved a re-discovery for me. I have also used short video shots of things which we sometimes accept that others who cannot get out and about just adore. This might be a fresh babbling spring up on Spaunton Moor, the call of the curlew flying up on Sleddale or the newly born ducklings on a farm in Rosedale. These sights and sounds often trigger memories.
Working closely with groups such as Ryedale Carers and Revival North Yorkshire has been really rewarding in supporting people who face different challenges in their lives, yet all have a shared love of the North York Moors and coast. I support a care home in Cheshire with virtual walks and some of the people there had their honeymoons a while back in Pickering and Whitby. The joy they have in seeing these places again and hearing stories about them is rewarding.
I love working with the National Park staff as they help me to realise that I am learning all the time. They have been incredibly supportive and their enthusiasm for their work is obvious. They have helped me to discover new areas and recently working with the conservation team I have been learning and studying the majestic wild flowers of Levisham.
Such activity has helped me during my first years of retirement to be active, be out and about and find exciting new challenges. This has helped me to have a focus and be positive at a time when things can often be quite bleak. Seeing landscapes change with the seasons and sharing the excitement of the wildlife with others helps me to be positive for the future. Working with other people who volunteer is also a benefit – much of this has been virtual because of the present situation. Hopefully, things will change in the future and we see each other out and about.
Lockdown has meant that I have ended up doing a similar walk in the National Park regularly, yet this has been magical. Walking from home up to Sleddale in heavy snow in February was such a tremendous day. Colours, with a clear blue sky were magnificent. A cracking day for photography and it was great to have shots taken at the same points as I had in the other seasons. I find that seeing the seasonal changes is extremely positive and so good for the soul!
The virtual walks we have presented have often been the first Zoom experience for people we support. It has been a joy when things work – people can see that this technology is quite simple and could be used in other aspects of their lives. There have been great comments like, ‘I didn’t think I’d be climbing Highcliff today in my slippers’ and ‘I remember picking bunches of those wild flowers and taking them home as a present for my mum, who then told me to get rid of that smelly garlic!’
Putting together the walks has made me appreciate even more not only the beauty of the area but its history and the uniqueness of the people who have and continue to make it what it is – a national treasure. I am lucky to live here.
Volunteering provides a sense of purpose and adds to being productive. It also boosts your wellbeing and in this particular form also provides exercise which is important for mental stimulation.
The whole approach to volunteering is stimulating and I love the fact that you are giving something back to society.
John, Volunteer for 10 years
Volunteering has improved my basic botany. Finally finding one clump of false fox sedge and one of remote sedge after three years searching six miles of road verge is one my volunteering achievements.
Rory, Volunteer for 10 years
Virtual walks volunteers
Sophie Lyth, Partnership and Development Officer
The virtual walks programme started in 2018 with one of our long standing volunteers Jim Hall and has since then grown and continues to grow. With four fantastic volunteers taking this forward, (thanks to Jim Hall, Davy Major, Rona Slater and Alison McDermott) virtual walks are becoming very well known among many organisations and individuals both across the National Park and even all the way down to Cheshire! With approximately 10 presentations a month presented to around 120 individuals in total, this is only just the start as more and more groups join this fantastic programme, helping those who have not been able to get out for the past year, but instead who have enjoyed the beauty of our National Park through their screen.
Here is what the organisations say about the virtual walks:
The walks have been very well received by our residents here at Elworth Grange. They thoroughly enjoy seeing the wildlife and countryside, along with some history, pictures and videos. Davy is very knowledgeable and has some little quirky pieces of information that he shares along the way to make it fun and interesting. Our residents often chat together afterwards about the walk they have watched and say ‘they have been there’ or ‘they would like to go there’. A resident yesterday commented how lovely it was to see the heron and peewit that Davy shared with us all. I feel it has a positive impact on them to see the countryside, especially during the current circumstances where we aren’t yet allowed to take them on trips due to covid restrictions.
Elworth Grange Care Home, Cheshire
I have found the monthly walks to be a really satisfying and positive experience, knowing that we are bringing together people who would otherwise not be able to access the outdoors. For the group that I am part of, this includes reasons of mobility difficulties, caring responsibilities, covid restrictions and lack of confidence.
One positive benefit is that several people have been motivated to try Zoom specifically in order to join the group and as they are now more confident with technology using it with family and for other groups. One lady has even braved her emails again, after being unsure for some time. We always include time for chatting and questions, as we feel that the connection and interaction is as important for the people that we work with. The group is gelling nicely after just three walks. We have several people who watch the session with family members, so it then becomes a shared experience that they can talk about afterwards too.
We often send out follow up materials such as maps or links to relevant TV programmes or websites – this helps people to extend the experience and go deeper if they wish and has been much appreciated. One or two people have done a similar walk or passed the information to family who have done the walk and then shared their photos.
There are just a few of the comments that we heard from the virtual walk participants:
- Brilliant photography, it looked gorgeous
- It was very interesting! I know Guisborough and still learned a lot
- We could imagine being there
- It brings back memories
- It was a bit of company; I wasn’t on my own
- Lovely to have someone to talk to.
Ryedale Carers Support
Volunteers are the essence of rural life
Paul, volunteer for 5 years My wife’s family has been associated with Fryup for about 60 years and I have been coming here for 35. When we settled in Glaisdale, 13 years ago, I had retired from corporate life but still worked as a consultant. But when I properly retired, around five years ago, I started looking for ways I could contribute to the community and that led to diverse volunteering roles with North York Moors National Park Authority.
Being close to Danby, I looked for ways to help at The Moors National Park Centre, initially at various events (volunteers are always needed at the beer festival!) and then with The Lodgers group who help maintain the grounds. I had a passing interest in astronomy and a telescope I had inherited from my father, so started to help at Dark Skies events. I went to a talk at Glaisdale WI (yes, men are allowed in) about riverflies and the consequence was I am now a riverfly sampling volunteer. When the Land of Iron project started, I got interested in that and have now built up some knowledge of the lesser known Glaisdale sites.
This is the big benefit for me, expanding my own knowledge and learning about the many fascinating aspects of our National Park. I know much more about our night skies than when I started and have bought another telescope. I know why there is a strong stone bridge on the moorland track near Postgate Farm (Postgate mine tramway). I can identify at least eight invertebrate riverfly larvae. Standout moment? There are many, one was actually getting mayfly Ephemeridae in the sample after a couple of years of not seeing any. Amazing creatures! This afternoon I did my first riverfly sampling of the year. I was worried last year because larvae numbers seemed to be decreasing and I was finding micro plastics in the samples. But today was my best count ever. Most species were abundant, including the Ephemeridae mayfly larvae, and I saw no plastic. It’s a privilege to be able to help verify the health of the River Esk when there is concern about our national rivers. Let’s hope this continues.
I do other volunteering work too, notably on Glaisdale PCC (CofE Church Council). I have been Chairman of Glaisdale Open Gardens and you may see me behind the bar at Esk Valley Theatre. Volunteers are the essence of rural life. There are many in our villages as well as those who come from surrounding areas, who ensure the North York Moors is a vibrant place. Long may it be so!
How dark is the night sky above the North York Moors and Howardian Hills AONB? And why does it matter?
Richard Darn, co-ordinator of the National Park’s dark sky monitoring survey, explains how volunteers are playing a vital role in conservation efforts.
Let’s deal with the second of those questions first. As a life-long amateur astronomer, light pollution is the bane of my life. From my urban back garden I can see no more than 50 stars. On the same night in the National Park I can multiple that by a factor of 40. But badly directed light does more than snub out the stars. It degrades wildlife habitats for species like bats, moths, birds and even fish. This is exceptionally serious. One of the major reasons cited for the collapse in insect populations worldwide is light pollution. Of course horribly bright and badly directed floodlighting in an otherwise dark place also detracts from the sense of tranquility we prize. Plus research is shedding more light on the negative impact on human health of overly bright night-time environments. Fortunately, the North York Moors National Park retains swathes of very dark countryside. So much so that in December last year it was designated as an international dark sky reserve, one of only 18 in the entire world. As part of this project we have been making measurements of the night sky over the past three years to establish a benchmark and gain a better understanding of local sources of light pollution. But we needed to beef up this effort. Enter the North York Moors National Park volunteers! Nearly 20 signed up and trained as dark sky monitors for this ongoing task, using special hand held light meters and going out in the dead of night to take measurements. Needless to say safety measures were put in place.
The programme got into full swing this spring and what a tremendous impact it has had. We have more than doubled the number of readings in our database and gained a much better spread across the entire National Park and AONB. We can now see we underestimated the true darkness of the coast around Ravenscar and across Wheeldale Moor. It’s possible these areas may be added to our ‘core’, the darkest zone we identified in our application for dark sky reserve status. Seeing this level of commitment to protect dark skies is heart warming. Light pollution, mainly driven by LED floodlights, is growing at a rapid pace. Dark sky friendly lighting offers a way out of this alarming trend while preserving convenience and safety. You might be able to adjust your own lighting to help. For advice visit our Dark Skies friendly lighting page.
We discovered our personal strengths and abilities
Jacqui, volunteer for six years Volunteering enables my family and me to give back something to the area which has given us so much pleasure for generations. My grandparents were enthusiastic walkers of the Cleveland Way, as were my parents. My sister and I have walked the route together and I have walked the Cleveland Way with my four children – they tell me it holds special memories for them and now, as adults, they enjoy walking the route with each other.
I began volunteering while recovering from a serious heart condition in 2015. Initially, I struggled to walk more than 10 metres from the van and would watch as my children joined in with the Explorer’s Club (in time I walked the 110 miles of the Cleveland Way with my children). My children love volunteering and learning all about the environment they live in, and as they became more involved (and I was strong enough to join them) we began to extend our volunteering. My children benefited from working together and with other families and enjoyed a real sense of achievement when they completed their tasks. We discovered our personal strengths and abilities, with each focusing on the task best suited (note taking, photography, leading, teaching, identification, carrying, digging, walking, building). Without the pressure to succeed in every area, we each were able to sample a greater diversity of activities and learned how to overcome self doubt. The sense of achievement felt after successfully clearing a blocked cross drain can seem delirious and was something I never would have dreamed I could have got excited about previously!
Volunteering for the North York Moors National Park Authority has been central to a large part of my children’s lives. It has helped to shape their characters, given them a strong sense of belonging to their home area and guided them in their future career choices. Our eldest is a Royal Marine and his decision to embark upon this career was strongly influenced by his love of completing tasks, leadership roles and being outdoors in all weather. Our second son has followed a career in Exploratory Geology and is studying at Cardiff University – a career he admits is based on his experiences of volunteering and the fieldwork he does. Both our younger children have embedded volunteering into their lives and look forward to our family sessions. I believe volunteering helped me on my path back to full health and have enjoyed all aspects of my time with you.
Being part of a big team is satisfying
Vera, volunteer for 26 years
Having retired a little early, I tried volunteering in various ways, including as a Voluntary Ranger. As a keen rambler, I liked the idea of exploring the National Park and helping to maintain rights of way, as well as improving my navigational skills (more time leading ramblers’ walks was another benefit of retirement).
Voluntary Ranger duties (patrols) are largely solo (apart from work parties, which give opportunities to meet others), so when other volunteer groups were set up starting just after the foot and mouth crisis, I was happy to join in, becoming a member of the Hobs, the first of these weekday groups.
Working in a group, in the outdoors, is always satisfying, and you learn new skills such as drystone walling, hedge laying and habitat piling. Working often with the same people makes for easy co-operation and support and new friendships have developed. During lockdown we missed the companionship and social gatherings as well as the physical satisfaction of a job done.
Practical work has meant that we could leave saying, ’You can see where we’ve been!’ whether a path that can now be walked without obstruction, or a boardwalk allowing access over a beck. We were very pleased when a disused quarry, cleared for several years, became a wildflower paradise, with seeds being transported to other areas. Occasionally other organisations such as the National Trust and Butterfly Conservation ‘employed’ us for projects such as improving habitat for rare butterflies like the Duke of Burgundy or clearing scheduled monuments.
Occasionally extreme weather has curtailed or caused cancellation of tasks, but usually it was a case of getting properly clothed and getting on with it – one of the advantages of working in a group, even if the fresh air is sometimes too fresh!
Being part of a big team is satisfying and I often tell those I meet while out on patrol how wonderful it is to be actually asked to go out and enjoy our beautiful moors!
Campaign for National Parks Volunteer of the Year Award
David Bream, Task Day Leader and runner up for the Volunteer of the Year Award
I joined the North York Moors National Park as a Voluntary Ranger seven years ago and have enjoyed my experiences as a VR which entailed getting to know the south area of the park and working on mobile display units in Farndale and Saltergate, and the occasional work task.
I found the work tasks particularly enjoyable as they involved meeting with like minded people and improving the infrastructure of the National Park, be it clearing footpaths, planting trees or building structures such as steps and boardwalks. These tasks were really nothing like I had ever done before. I found the work to be rewarding and highly satisfying. I was therefore pleased when my Area Ranger approached me in 2017 to suggest that there was a possibility of greater involvement with work tasks as the park was on the verge of creating voluntary Task Day Leaders to lead other volunteers and thereby add to the resources at the disposal of the National Park. The North York Moors was to be a national leader in this programme of change. Following these early conversations, I was swiftly recruited along with several others to take part in the first of two training sessions run by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and the Maintenance Rangers and then slowly introduced to shared tasks before fully leading on my own.
Based on the success of this model, the National Park decided to take the training in-house and include rolling out the programme to some of the Partner Groups such as Thornton le Dale Hub, Botton Village and Autism Plus. The aim was to standardise practices and share and learn from each others experiences. I was asked to deliver the health and safety side of the training in the early sessions due to my background and then eventually when the Partnership & Development Officer Ryan Chenery left to take over the full programme.
Over the last five years, I have run approximately 20 training sessions covering staff and volunteers from Young Rangers, Ryevitalise, Land of Iron, Woodland Group, and Dark Sky Project along with several Partner Groups. I have also presented to The Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland National Parks to help them decide if this a model they wish to follow.
I personally believe the scheme has been a great success that has allowed greater involvement from volunteers to help maintain the accessibility of the National Park for all and maintain and improve conservation.
I was deeply honoured to have been nominated for the Campaign for National Parks Park Protector Volunteer of the Year Award by my line manager Sophie Lyth, in recognition of the Task Day Leader Training that I undertake for both volunteers and permanent members of staff among my other duties.
If someone had said to me years ago that my volunteering role would play such a big, challenging and varied part of my life I would have never believed them. I have met and continue to meet knowledgeable and greatly enthusiastic people both among the permanent staff, volunteers and general public. I find this aspect of my role immensely inspiring and motivational. I would say to anyone thinking of volunteering for any of the National Parks don’t hesitate, there is something for everyone and a welcome for all.
Sophie Lyth, Partnership & Development Officer said:
Since the Task Day Leader (TDL) journey began it has developed into a fantastic initiative across the National Park and beyond to external partners and other National Parks. We have a fantastic team of TDLs who help us to lead groups of volunteers to complete various tasks, as without them, managing our dedicated volunteers and all of the work across the National Park would be extremely challenging. They are an absolute asset to the organisation and do an amazing job, I would like to thank them for their continued support and dedication and hope that we will continue working together for many more years to come.