A different way to volunteer - The Heart of England Forest

 

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt across the charity over the last year, with volunteering being no exception. Jonathan Saunders, our Volunteer Manager, reflects on how our programme has adapted over the past 12 months to enable people to still give their time to help grow the Forest.

Adapting our volunteering programme

This time last year our volunteer tree planting activities ground to a sudden halt, and we were all told to stay at home as a national lockdown began. With the pandemic spreading across the globe, we had already started planning to ensure the work of the charity could continue in the face of an uncertain time ahead.

With many of our volunteers stuck at home unable to work and see friends and family, it was important to find different ways to continue our volunteering programme, providing opportunities for willing individuals to keep active and continue supporting the Forest.

A key part of our plans was launching a programme of micro volunteering; short, simple tasks that supported the wider objectives of the charity, that volunteers could complete in their own time and at home.

Micro volunteering from home

Early micro volunteering tasks focused on research and producing materials for our social media channels to help bring the Forest to people at home. These activities were taken up with relish, and we were delighted that volunteers wanted to get involved with this new way of giving their time to support our work.

Janice researched and wrote about wildflowers for our regular #FloweroftheFortnight social media posts: “I have really enjoyed micro volunteering as it gave me a challenge that I could do in my own time and at my own speed. I was missing getting out of the city to the Forest and nature reserves which I found was good for my mental health, but I could carry out research locally to write the social media posts about wildflowers. It has kept me going over the long gap from being out in the countryside and I have learnt a lot.”

Practical micro volunteering in the Forest

Alan and fellow volunteer surveying in the Forest

In early May, changes in Government guidance enabled us to get small numbers of volunteers back into the Forest. While volunteer group activities were restricted to manage group sizes and protect our attendees, we took the opportunity to expand our micro volunteering programme.

Volunteers who had previously supported biodiversity work were once more able to go out and conduct butterfly, bumblebee, and dragonfly and damselfly surveys, contributing valuable data which will shape the future of the Forest.

Mark is a local electrician who helped catalogue existing signage across our network of public access footpaths: “I was not always an outdoors person; however, the pandemic has provided me with an opportunity to change my perspective and find opportunities to get out and about. I enjoyed the chance to visit areas in Dorsington I am not familiar with and it gave me an extra purpose to get my walking boots on!”

Micro volunteering is here to stay

Looking back over the past year it is incredible what our volunteers have been able to achieve despite the pandemic. Since March 2020, 91 unique micro volunteering tasks have been completed, and 291 volunteer hours contributed, conducted both outdoors and indoors. This is a fantastic achievement and adds to the already significant number of hours contributed towards our forestry, biodiversity and learning and skills activities across the last 12 months.

Although introduced during a time when our volunteering programme was significantly reduced, micro volunteering has proven to be a very valuable and versatile tool for providing volunteering opportunities and will remain a mainstay in our programme.

Learn more about opportunities to volunteer and help grow the Forest.

The Heart of England Forest