The Conservation Volunteers is the largest practical conservation organisation in the UK. It supports more than 85,000 volunteers from all sections of the community in activities to protect and improve the environment. With more than 110 offices around the UK, we are able to work in a range of areas carrying out different activities. The Practical Handbooks series is one of the ways of helping to ensure that work undertaken by volunteers and other conservationists is to the highest standard.
To ensure the success of any conservation project, it is important to establish:
- Whether it is a worthwhile conservation project. Any work to be carried out should respond to a real need which is directly related to a broad framework of development. In terms of conservation, this means that projects should be undertaken as integral parts of site management plans, not as isolated exercises. The prime purpose of the work should also be made clear. For instance is it to improve local wildlife habitats or to improve access to the countryside?
- That the work is suitable for volunteers. Volunteers cannot successfully tackle all types of work and they should not be involved where there is a risk of serious accident or injury, where machines can do the same job more effectively and for a lower cost, or where the skills required are beyond their capabilities. The latter can be overcome if professional training is provided so that a situation can be avoided where volunteers become dispirited or the work is not done to a high standard.
- Where the project will take place and how much time it will take to complete. Once this has been done it is necessary to establish whether there are any hazards and risks associated with the site.
- Whether the work should be done by paid staff. Voluntary service should not replace paid, local labour but complement it. Employers should make sure in advance that the position of volunteers and paid workers is clear with respect to any relevant labour unions.
Volunteers should not be regarded as providing ‘free labour’. Someone has to pay for transport, materials, tools, insurance, refreshments and any accommodation charges. Before each party makes a commitment to a project it should be clear who is to pay for what. While volunteers may willingly fund their own work, clients should be prepared to contribute and should not assume that all volunteers, who are already giving their time and effort, will be able to meet other expenses out of their own pockets. Several grant-aiding bodies may help pay the cost of environmental and conservation projects. For details of grants and awards, contact The Conservation Volunteers. Information is available in publications by the Charities Aid Foundation.
It is important that volunteer workers are covered by public liability insurance for any damage or injury they may cause to third party property or to the public. Cover of at least two million pounds is recommended. Additional insurance to compensate the volunteer for injury to him or herself or to other volunteers on a project should also be considered. Specially tailored insurance is available through The Conservation Volunteers ‘community network’.
The volunteer group organiser should visit the work site well before the project to check that it is suitable and that volunteers will not be exploited, and to plan the best size of working party and the proper tools and equipment. Volunteers should be advised in advance on suitable clothing for the expected conditions, they should be physically fit and come prepared for work. Above all, individuals should genuinely want to volunteer – those ‘press-ganged’ into volunteering may do more harm than good and will not enjoy the benefits associated with volunteering. Young volunteers need more supervision and are best suited to less strenuous jobs, and it is recommended that where they are involved, the project should emphasise education. Recent legislation, including The Children Act, gives comprehensive guidance on supervisory ratios and other means to safeguard the welfare of young people. The recommendations of the Home Office report Safe from harm, should also be followed, and for any activities in remote areas, organisers should also be fully aware of the Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations.
Volunteer group organisers and clients should keep records of the work undertaken: the date of the project, jobs done, techniques used, number of volunteers and details of any notable events including accidents, unusual ‘finds’, publicity etc. Such information makes it easier to handle problems or queries which may arise after the project. It also provides a background on the project site for future visits, supplies practical data by which the site management plan can be evaluated and allows an assessment to be made of the volunteer effort.
As well as directly managing project work, whether for a day or longer, we support volunteers indirectly through the local group service and run a year round programme of training courses. To find out more about what opportunities are available please visit our main website.