Kirsty Ferris began volunteering in South Downs National Park when she was 18 years old. She wanted to give back and get experience with outdoor work.
She is now 22 and runs her own garden design company. She has spent hours pruning trees, building fences, and laying hedges. This has helped to conserve grassland, and improved access to beautiful countryside.
She stated, “It is extremely rewarding to do work that directly benefits the environment. It gives me such pride.”
Ferris is only one of a few young volunteers at UK national parks. It was recently revealed that the average age of volunteers in certain national parks is 63. Therefore, young volunteers under 30 are encouraged to sign up to preserve some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes for future generations.
A combination of aging rural populations, competing time demands and a lack access to public transport has led to many national parks without young volunteers. This is a problem that many national parks are keen to address.
After noticing that none its 300 regular volunteers were under 30, the Yorkshire Dales national parks launched a push to encourage more youth to take up stewardship after realizing that it was lacking.
It has created two initiatives for groups of under-18s that want to spend a whole day doing conservation work in the park, and another for individuals aged 18-30 who want a specific area to focus their attention.
Neil Heseltine is the chair of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. He stated: We foster a new generation of people who love, appreciate, explore, and advocate for the unique environment in the national park. He stated that he hopes young people will forge a lifetime relationship with the Yorkshire Dales.
The average volunteer age at the Brecon Beacons is 61. We value the skills of more experienced volunteers, but we would love to diversify the volunteer base and add energy and enthusiasm to the team. Amanda Brake, Brecon Beacons national parks authority, stated that while we greatly value the skills of more experienced volunteers, we also value the contributions of younger volunteers to our national park. Our work in 2022 will focus on the restoration of some of our 16,000 hectares upland peatbogs. Peat is an important carbon and water store. However, it can be easily damaged. Fortunately, restoring peat habitats will help reduce carbon loss and mitigate climate change. Volunteers will help with surveys, practical restoration tasks and path repair to reduce erosion.
She stated that volunteering doesn’t require any prior experience, but that it does require a willingness and ability to put in the effort and give it a try.
The North York Moors National Park is also looking for young volunteers, especially for its Youth Council, which makes decisions about the park’s future as a rural community. It has been awarded funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in order to provide transport for families and young persons.
Mary-Jane Alexander (youth engagement officer, North York Moors federal park authority) stated: There are many elements of national park policy which directly impact on young people. Not least how we address climate emergencies, lack of affordable housing, declining local services, and the escalating global climate crisis.
She said that it was right for young people to have a say in these matters.
John Packman, chief executive officer of the Broads Authority which manages the Norfolk Broads and the Suffolk Broads, stated that national parks are meant to inspire people to care for the environment.
We are constantly amazed at the positive impact that volunteering can have on young people’s lives. It is a way to connect with the land and make a difference in their lives.
These volunteers are often leaders and influencers, inspiring their peers to share their passions and get involved in environmental issues. Young volunteers are crucial to us.
It is more than just planting trees and fixing fences. Bob Cain is a volunteer 20-year-old who is part of the governance project at Caingorms National Park. Through that, he has gained invaluable skills, experience, and even a visit to Finland.
There are many negative stereotypes associated to living in the sticks without much to do. It’s exciting to see the possibilities when you put your mind and effort into something. It is also important to have adult support networks, as it can be very difficult to do these things all by yourself.
Cain, who is currently completing his fourth year at Aberdeen University in politics and international relationships, feels that volunteering has given him an uncommon understanding of the world.
Volunteering, especially at the political level, is a great way to see the real world and learn about how things work.
A lot of people are unsure of themselves and have poor public speaking skills. It is something they will carry with them for the rest their lives.