With another planting season behind them, you might be forgiven for thinking that the summer months offer a chance for our fabulous volunteers to put their feet up and enjoy the sunshine, but you would be wrong! On the contrary, they are as busy as ever…

A busy season

Many of the volunteers’ summer tasks will centre on the Heart of England Forest’s tree nursery and its surrounding woodland. In readiness to grow the next batch of seedlings, the ground needs to be weeded and prepared before the seeds are sown. Seeds then need to be protected from scavenging birds and squirrels and kept well irrigated through the drier summer months. The existing tree saplings also need nurturing to ensure that they are strong and ready for the start of the next planting season in the autumn. Stakes also need to be checked and, if necessary, replaced along with the tree guards that protect them from deer and rodents.

The latest planting season saw the Heart of England Forest grow by an amazing 180,000 trees at Coughton Fields Farm, and ensuring these all have a healthy start in life is paramount.

The variety of summer maintenance tasks, from looking after the new seedlings in the tree nursey to clearing bridleways and footpaths, will ensure that no two volunteering days are the same!

Other volunteer involvement includes the chance to help out with our packed programme of events. Each year more and more people attend our open days, guided walks and nature talks so volunteers have the chance to attend and perform a variety of duties to help us ensure everything runs smoothly.

Growing numbers and a home of their own

Under the watchful eyes of Forest Ranger and Volunteer Coordinator Tom Smith and Head Forester Stephen Coffey, the ever-growing band of happy helpers now have their very own ‘Volunteer Hub’ at the tree nursery. The hub provides the perfect base from which to direct operations and means that they are ‘in situ’ at this key location.

After the fantastic item about the work of the Heart of England Forest on a recent edition of the BBC’s Countryfile programme, Tom has seen an upsurge in interest from people keen to get involved as volunteers. “After the show went out,” he says, “I responded to lots of new enquiries and more people have now joined our steadily-growing team of volunteers.” All this is a far cry from the core of five regulars who joined the Tuesday and Thursday sessions when they started little over a year ago. A monthly Saturday session has now been added to the timetable and is already proving popular.

One person who joined up after attending our Garden of Heroes and Villains Open Day and guided walks last year is Kathy Cox. Kathy signed up for a planting day and then encouraged friends who are part of a group called ‘Out and About In Warwickshire’ to come along too. The result was more keen volunteers signing up, while Kathy has also become a ‘Friend of the Forest’. She loves her time in the woodland, saying “it is an amazing way of getting exercise, fresh air, being in nature, but most importantly, of giving back and helping with the sustainability of our beautiful country and planet.”

Surveying the scene

Another task, due to start in June, is that of monitoring flora and fauna throughout the Forest. It is hoped that interested volunteers will learn survey techniques from our friends at the Warwick Natural History Society (WNHS) and help us to undertake a baseline survey of the flora and fauna throughout the Heart of England Forest. “The purpose,” says Stephen Coffey, “is for us to gain a clearer picture of exactly what we’ve got so that we can feed this information into the way we manage the land to accommodate different species.” The team is particularly interested in hearing from potential volunteers with any experience of such surveys to help coordinate it with the WNHS.  If you think you could help, or to get involved in any aspect of volunteering, please contact us at volunteer@hoef.co.uk. We’d love to hear from you!