To celebrate Volunteers’ Week 2015, Gemma Windle, Volunteering Secretary at Bristol Nature Network has given us a run-down of her top 5 reasons to volunteer at the Festival of Nature:
1. Get out!
We all know that fresh air and green spaces are good for us, but most of us are guilty of not getting enough ‘green time’. Volunteering for the festival of nature and community outreach events such as Bioblitz or the Wild Day at Stoke Park forces you to get outside and take notice of nature. Not only do I spend many of my summer Saturdays exploring Bristol’s most beautiful green spaces alongside some very experienced naturalists, but I often go back to these places throughout the year, to get to know them better and clock up a few ‘green hours’.
As a zoology graduate you’d think I’d know my British wildlife. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different. Yes I can tell you all about allopatric speciation in Cichlids of Lake Victoria, but I can’t tell a Maple from an Ash. It’s a tad embarrassing at times, especially when previous generations seem to know these things regardless of whether they identify as being interested in nature or not. Volunteering at Festival of Nature is helping me work on this.
Last month I spent 4 hours in Oldbury Court with Tony Smith, a local naturalist who will deny that he is an expert and will then proceed to tell you the Latin and common names of every living thing in site. Every year I pick a few more of these up; I can now point out bird’s foot trefoil, white dead nettle, a couple of species of buttercup to name a few. I now also have the confidence to sit down and find an ID out for myself with the help of some traditional (field guides) and less traditional (iSpot) tools. I don’t think I’ll ever accumulate the shear amount of knowledge that Tony has, but I get a great deal of enjoyment out of the learning process, which surely is a good thing in itself.
Biological records are vital for getting a good picture of ecological trends to inform planning, development, management and conservation projects. Like with any statistics, more information is almost always better, so every record is valuable. Mass participation citizen science events such as the RSPBs Big Garden Bird Watch or the Lady Bird Survey are a great way of engaging people something as well as accruing a huge hall of vital data. And when you are making biological records, it is inevitable that you yourself will learn to identify more and more species, and take notice of those that you once overlooked.
4. Engaging the public
One of the main aims of Festival of Nature is public engagement. Attendees don’t have to leave as experts, or become eco-warriors. It’s about giving people the opportunity to take notice of nature, enjoy it, and if they want to, learn a bit about it. Sometimes this will be as basic as explaining why a spider is not an insect, to someone who is uncomfortable just looking at the field guides. Other times you come across very passionate people, who may know more than you. Neither is an obstacle- there is always something to learn about the natural word.
While volunteering at the Festival of Nature I have met some fantastic people. It’s a very varied group of volunteers, staff and naturalists but the shared interest and aims ensures the group dynamics are always positive and interesting. Everyone is supportive of each other, regardless of age, ability or experience, which makes for a great day out.
Volunteers are still needed for the Festival of Nature Schools’ Day on Friday 12 June. To find out more and sign up follow this link.