Rhiannon Evetts (Nature Recovery Engagement Officer)
"We now have a few short years during which we can still make a choice. Where just enough remains of the natural world for it to recover. This starts and ends with us.”
Sir David Attenborough
The nation was amazed and inspired by David Attenborough’s latest Wild Isles program, and at its heart was a very clear message – we all come from nature, we all rely on nature, and we all need to play our part to protect it. Especially in these times, the crises our planet faces are relevant to each and every one of us; it’s become personal, and we are all being called to action.
Rightly or wrongly, volunteering has always been a huge part of the nature conservation sector. Traditionally, we perhaps think of managing nature reserves and volunteer work parties. However, now the emphasis has shifted – many of you in Oxfordshire volunteer your time, not just to manage reserves, but also to create and manage local green spaces, contribute to environmental talks, workshops, and community eco fairs and events. You help with litter picks, take part in citizen science initiatives, campaign and freely give your expertise and time towards making our County a better place for nature. Many of us are changing our daily habits, lifestyles, and our private gardens to better serve the environment – surely this is a form of volunteering too; giving up our time in our personal lives to find out what’s best for the planet and acting on it.
As individuals we can make a difference. However, volunteering by being a part of a community group or project is now becoming a major, recognised strategy for nature recovery. The ‘Wild Isles’ program website even has a community section that has plagiarised our strapline, ‘together for nature’, the cheek!
Wild Oxfordshire has known the importance of joined up action and the power of community groups since the first inception of the Oxfordshire Nature Conservation Forum 30 years ago. Now, with over 20 years of supporting and working with local environmental community groups, we are proud to support the inspirational work happening across the County. We have mapped 100 environmental groups, all of whom are giving their time and resources to help our planet recover. And yet, astonishingly, many of you wouldn’t consider this as volunteering!
Here's a glimpse of some of the happenings from one of the most recently formed environmental groups that we are working with – Kidlington Eco Group (KEG):
KEG began at the same time as the ‘Wild Kidlington’ project and has been integral to the project’s successes. KEG is a group of groups; a melting pot (or keg if you will) of all the eco and environmental goings on in Kidlington. Like almost all the community groups we work with, almost everyone there is volunteering their own time for free and doing their bit because they’re passionate and care. It has been so inspiring to see the group grow in number, reach and ambition over the last year.
Together, we’ve put on a number of events for the village and helped manage various green spaces throughout Kidlington.
Our collaborative Earth Hour event back in March was a huge hit. Over 30 people came on our little walk from all parts of the village. We wanted to celebrate Earth Hour in a way that would connect people to the natural world, increasing the relevance and profundity of the Earth Hour message. We chose St Mary’s Wildlife site as the location for an evening wildlife walk, followed by a campfire with hot chocolates and marshmallow toasting. It was wonderful to see the families enjoying being within nature and learning about their local wildlife.
“It’s felt like a mini-adventure!”
The walk itself was led by our local ‘batman’, and key volunteer, Andy Pedley. A huge thank you to Andy, St Mary’s Fields team, Ruth Mo and Phil Durrant, for all their help with this event (and many others!), making it extra special!
If you visit St Mary’s Fields Wildlife Site, be sure to look out for the tawny owls who are nesting there again this year. This incredible reserve is completely managed by volunteers – not just the work parties – but all the organisation and events as well! A huge thank you to the St Mary’s Fields team for your dedication and involvement with KEG.
Lyne Road Green’s makeover is going well thanks to the hard work of our Lyne Road Green Volunteers. They have been busy over the last few months to make sure the area is better for wildlife. Thank you to you all for recording all the veteran trees in the area and for taking care of the green whilst it grows. Fingers crossed for our baby wildflowers – new plugs have recently been planted and Kidlington Parish Council are carefully staking out no-mow areas to protect the seedlings as well as designated areas for our insects and pollinators.
Our KEG partner, Cherwell Collective’s ‘Big Help Out’ event was even mentioned on our local news! In celebration of Coronation weekend, their volunteers made a living unicorn statue (symbolising the royal coat of arms) at Park Hill restoration ground as well as offering a food bank and information on how to live more sustainably. You can find out more about their work on their website – or pop into Exeter Hall on Thursday and Fridays.
“I do environmental work because I believe this is the big fight of our lifetime…it's because I think it's my moral duty as a human being to clean up a mess I have helped make.”
Emily Connally, Cherwell Collective
A huge thank you to Wild Kidlington’s volunteer Andy Pedley, for organising and leading most of our wildlife walks in Kidlington. His popular bat walks have just started up again ready for this year. We’ve also got swift walks happening in July with thanks to Richard Abernethy (St Mary’s Fields volunteer) and Chris Mason (Cherwell Swift Project).
The Wild Kidlington Project is funded by Cherwell District Council. Wild Kidlington therefore has a strong emphasis on making sure everyone involved receives wellbeing and personal benefits.
“Volunteering with Wild Kidlington is really enjoyable…I am learning loads, and it is so rewarding to see the area flourish. Another great benefit is getting to know a group of like-minded people as we develop the area together. It also provides good exercise.”
Rachel Bosley (Lyne Road Green and ‘Nature Time’ volunteer)
“I only really discovered the nature reserve at St Mary’s Fields during ‘lockdown’ so when I found out it’s managed by volunteers, I couldn’t wait to join them and give something back, as a way of thanks for the endless hours of pleasure I spend there enjoying nature.”
Mandy Rodway (St Mary's Fields and Lyne Road Green volunteer)
“...we got involved in nature recovery because there were so many negative stories in the media about everything being in decline: birds, butterflies, bees, mammals, you name it...[but]...It seemed that there were things that could be done by ordinary people, so we decided to help...
"The nice thing was that the people who got involved all seemed to really enjoy what they were doing and had smiles on their faces.
"The really pleasing thing is that as public awareness of climate change has grown, so the number of groups attending [Kidlington gala day green lane] has also increased so we now have 7 or 8 organisations explaining why looking after nature is important and how people can get involved. With that comes official support from the council and Kidlington’s official Nature Recovery Engagement Officer! Now things are really taking off with many more events across much more of the village. Let’s hope that continues as the area around us changes dramatically over the next few years.”
Peter and Julia Trowles (St Mary’s Fields and Abundance)
So here’s to the unsung heroes. To all our community groups and Oxfordshire’s individuals volunteering, whether you identify as a volunteer or just concerned individuals, there is no just about it! The future of the natural world is in all our hands and thank goodness that in Oxfordshire, the future looks a lot brighter for it.
Want to join in the action? Then find and contact your local community groups here. If you’re looking for more inspiration and places you can volunteer locally, try searching ‘volunteer’ into our directory. Also, check out Oxfordshire Conservation Volunteers for habitat management work parties.
Or, if you’re a part of a community group looking for funding, take a look here at the current funding pots available.
And if your group would like habitat management advice, please get in touch with our Community Ecologist, Imogen.