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Page last updated at 11:32 GMT, Thursday, 17 June 2010 12:32 UK
Conservation volunteering numbers on the up in Norfolk
David Keller, BBC Norfolk
By David Keller
BBC Norfolk

Mark Webster (left), from BTCV in north Norfolk and Ernie Woodrow (right), volunteer
Mark Webster (left) has gained 100 volunteers to help in north Norfolk

Conservation volunteers in Norfolk are on the increase as more people give their time to help look after the county's wildlife habitats.

A new BTCV (British Trust for Conservation Volunteers) sector in north Norfolk has seen volunteers increase to more than 100.

The Norwich division has also seen membership rocket from 105 to 331 between 2007 and 2009.

"People can make a difference," said Mark Webster from BTCV north Norfolk.

BBC Springwatch, based in Norfolk for its third year in 2010, is helping to highlight the importance of the local environment and encouraging people to be green and respect the wildlife around them.

"With climate change, you hear about it all the time," said Mark, who has been a volunteer for 20 years and has led the BTCV operation in north Norfolk since October 2009.

"We, as volunteers, are the people who make a difference by enabling wildlife to move and disperse as it happens.

"We maintain the habitats that help wildlife to thrive as that threat carries on," he added.

The BTCV is now in its 51st year and has a mission "to create a more sustainable future by inspiring people and improving places".

The trust now supports 1,936 local community groups and has 300,000 volunteers across the UK.

"BTCV has had projects in Norwich for a long time but we've been very lucky in the last year to get two new projects going," said Mark.

"In Thetford, as part of the Healthy Towns Initiative, we have a Green Gym and North Norfolk District Council got some lottery money in via Natural England to run our project across north Norfolk from Fakenham to Stalham.

"The volunteers are very enthusiastic and they really enjoy getting stuck in. You meet people and it's nice and social."

Volunteering opportunities

However, the BTCV is not the only organisation that provides conservation volunteering sessions around the county.

Cockshoot Broad (Photo: Ray Jones)
The Broads provide an abundance of volunteering opportunities

Voluntary Norfolk, the group that supports voluntary organisations and volunteers across the county, can help put you in touch with people who run fun conservation projects.

Norfolk's waterways, a mecca to thousands of visitors each year, benefit from around 250 volunteers set up by the Broads Authority.

Their volunteers range in age from 15 to 83.

"My voluntary work with the Broads has been varied, always interesting and incredibly rewarding," said Howard Constantine, whose volunteering work of seven years has helped him achieve an NVQ in environmental conservation.

"It's always a privilege to be out in the Broads and be given the chance to help in maintaining its unique characteristics," he added.

"Having busy lives these days, it's good to connect with our surroundings, keep fit in the process and learn new skills," said Diane Alaoui, a member of the volunteer team at the Trinity Broads.

"You might catch a glimpse of an otter, or even our elusive bittern, and think that you may have helped towards the survival of these creatures," she added.

Benefits

Conservation volunteering, although giving up your time for free, doesn't have to be a chore and has many benefits.

"People should get involved in volunteering because they gain many new skills and see new places," said Debbie Murray from BTCV in Norwich.

Chris Packham and Kate Humble from BBC Springwatch
BBC Springwatch is encouraging people to get their hands dirty

"You get to work as part of a team, learn how to use tools, get the satisfaction of a job well done, make new friends, get fitter, lose weight and perhaps come across places you never knew existed," she added.

"There isn't really a commitment - you turn up when you want to. No one is forcing you to push yourselves - we do three-hour sessions and full days," said Mark Webster.

The projects are also varied, take place in woodlands, parks and meadows across Norfolk and can be structured to complement your skills.

"The work depends on the time of year. In winter we do a lot of scrub control, tree felling and pond clearance and in the summer we do construction work, bracken bashing and heathland restoration," said Debbie.

"I think volunteer numbers are on the rise because more people understand the benefits of volunteering and how it can improve your chances of getting employment."




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