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Page last updated at 08:19 GMT, Wednesday, 16 June 2010 09:19 UK
Volunteers vital for wildlife conservation project
Volunteers check for water voles
Volunteers from NEAT search for water voles in Marsh Farm Country Park

A project to count the number of water voles at Marsh Farm Country Park near South Woodham Ferrers is underway.

Members of NEAT, Chelmsford Borough Council's Neighbourhood Environmental Action Team are hunting for water vole signs along the drainage ditches.

"We have a good population of water voles here at Marsh Farm," said Park Ranger, Rob Haworth.

The surveys monitor population trends and the information acts as a guide to future habitat management practice.

Rob believes the work of volunteers are vital to wildlife groups.

"Volunteers are the 'lifeblood' of conservation in general, especially the likes of wildlife trusts who rely on volunteers to get the job done," said Rob.

Rob knows from his experience how rewarding volunteering can be.

"I used to work in a bank. About five or six years ago I suffered from ill health and had to leave that," said Rob.

"As part of my recovery I started volunteering for the Essex Wildlife Trust .

"The whole experience of working outdoors, the exercise, the fresh air, it did more for me than therapy or medication could," he added.

"It's mentally and physically rewarding."

River Crouch runs through Marsh Farm Country Park
There is a good population of water voles at Marsh Farm Country Park

Two of the NEAT volunteers, Sylvia and Graham, agree with Rob.

"We feel we're giving something back to the community and it's good fun out in the fresh air," said Sylvia.

Chelmsford Borough Council's NEAT officer, Jackie Lane, said the volunteers can be asked to do a variety of different jobs.

"Today we're helping Marsh Farm to survey for water voles," said Jackie.

"This is quite a departure from what they normally do. We do a lot of litter picking and we've done cutting back vegetation, planting, graffiti removal.

"Today they're having the chance to train to do some survey work," she added.

The water vole survey will continue until July when they will be able to review the results.

"I'm hopeful that the NEAT volunteers here today will really enjoy it and want to come back and do it again as an alternative to litter picking and the other jobs they do," said Rob.

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