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The Benefits of Volunteering - Val - One of our Trustees

The first time I heard about Felbeck Trust was from friends in our local bird club who were already volunteering with Felbeck Trust. The idea of physical work outside with like-minded people, to improve habitat and biodiversity, really appealed to me. However, as I was working full-time, it was put on the back burner.

Fast forward 18 months and I realised that I really needed to get away from my desk - I was suffering from the physical effects of my sedentary job, and from the isolation of working from home (this was before the covid pandemic, when everyone was doing it!).

My husband Nick and I attended our first work party at Sadler’s Wood, where Felbeck Trust was collaborating with North Norfolk District Council. On arrival we were given a warm welcome before being set to work. I had rather expected to be handed a litter picker and a bin bag.

Instead, the work party leader, Trevor, gave us a demonstration of how to use an Austrian scythe (and the obligatory health & safety briefing to ensure no-one ended the day short of a leg!) and then turned to me and said “There you are, Val, off you go”. After a gulp of trepidation, I seized the scythe and thus began my love affair with active conservation work. I don’t think I was a ‘natural’ with a scythe, but I managed to give the grass a bit of a haircut, helping the wildflowers to compete. During the course of the morning, we also spent some time bramble bashing, gathering up litter as we went. There was a great sense of camaraderie as we scythed, hacked and raked side-by-side (but not too close!), and this was cemented by the friendly chat during our tea break.

So what did I get out of that first session? Well – as well as a stiff back – it turned out to be rather a lot: fresh air, exercise, companionship, a sense of purpose, a better understanding of nature conservation in action, and, most importantly for me, a newfound self-confidence, inspired by the trust that had been put in me to wield a very sharp blade. And this in turn became the catalyst that enabled me to review my work-life balance and take the step to retirement, and a new lease of life.

Since that first day, Nick and I have become regular volunteers with Felbeck Trust. We have carried out a wide range of activities, most of which represent new skills for us – coppicing; cleaning out nest boxes; building bridges and boardwalks; pond digging; tree planting & maintenance; managing storm damage; scrub clearance; managing habitat to improve the chances of Turtle Doves breeding, as part of the RSPB’s Operation Turtle Dove; species monitoring & recording as part of a Bioblitz. It is a really satisfying experience to see the impact of a morning’s hard work, and even more fulfilling to watch the habitat and wildlife develop over the months and years.

We have also got to know some really interesting people from all walks of life, many of whom, like us, have come to conservation later in life. As well as these new converts, we have also met some real experts on habitat management and wildlife, who have always been happy to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for the wild world.

Volunteering with Felbeck Trust has thus become much more than just an antidote to my working situation, and is now an integral part of our lives.

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