Saturday, 15 March 2014

What volunteering means for me - from Tim Sykes, ecologist

Green Hampshire are delighted to feature a guest article from our friend Tim Sykes. Tim describes himself as a devout family man, hopeless Triathlete and plump basketball player/fanatic and, as his articles makes clear, he is passionate about enjoying & conserving our natural world. He is a professional ecologist. Tim has provided the twitter names for the organizations he mentions in brackets.

For me, volunteering for my local wildlife trust, the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (@BBOWT), in 1985, was a life-enriching and career-making decision. I owe my career to the staff and volunteers of BBOWT, and I met my soul-mate (now wife) through working with the Trust. I made life-long friendships, experienced nature in the raw and learned to value our natural world in ways that are available to everyone, should they choose to make the time.

My love of the natural world was nurtured by my parents and involved a lot of feral-time spent exploring my local neighbourhood in eastern USA where I was born, and holidays to wild and rugged (and usually muddy!) locations. Building tree-houses, tracking wildlife, fishing, canoeing, hiking and wild-camping with my family, made for a marvellous childhood. In North Carolina there was no Wildlife WATCH (@wildlifewatch), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (@RSPB_Learning) or Project Wild Thing (@wearewildthing) (must-join organisations for any parent of nature-inquisitive kids) to provide structure, but boy did we build some memories!

Such a start in life naturally led to an academic interest in natural sciences, and I knew I would spend much of my life involved in practical environmental conservation, but it never occurred to me that career paths existed for my vocation.

My world changed the day I walked into BBOWT’s office. As a student I was obliged to do some work-experience and I figured the Trust might have a job going. Little did I realise what the Trust actually did or that it was run by only a handful of professional (poorly paid, but inspirational) staff and 1000s of volunteers : our Society has been ‘big’ for many years!

Welcomed with open arms, the Trust offered expert technical training and kinship, all at zero cost – I just had to provide my time and a willingness to participate. It took only 10 minutes in the BBOWT Office on that first day for me to realise that I could and would dedicate my career to nature conservation.  

I spent that summer in a volunteer team carrying out botanical surveys of the Oxfordshire and Berkshire countryside. I was hooked, and the following summer was back, writing and implementing management plans for numerous BBOWT nature reserves.  Since then I have worked for @BBOWT, the Brecknock Wildlife Trust (@BrecknockWildli), Nature Conservancy Council Wales - a forerunner to @NatResWales, an ecological consultancy, and now the Environment Agency (@EnvAgencySE), and volunteered for the North Wales Wildlife Trust (@North_Wales_WT) and Hants & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (@HantsIWWildlife) along the way. What fun!  I love going to work.

One’s personal motivation to volunteer our time, our effort, our expertise, our networks and friendship will be unique to you but, for some, it may also be a precursor to a career in a vocational field. To those I would advocate going the extra mile – academic qualifications are necessary for many jobs in nature conservation but practical hands-on experience will make one stand-out from the crowd at interview: the opportunities to do so are many and varied, ably assisted by @GreenHampshire! 

Volunteer for the @HantsIWWildlife, The New Forest National Park Authority (@newforestnpa), the South Downs National Park Authority (@sdnpa), the National Trust (@southeastNT), Groundwork Solent (@GroundwrkSolent), The Conservation Volunteers (@TCVtweets) or one of the many local and dynamic community groups, such as The Anton River Conservation Association (@riveranton) and Weston Shore Friends (@WestonShore)  and enrich your life while you do your bit to conserve your local environment, as well as enhance your career chances. It worked for me.  #GetInvolved 

What does volunteering mean for you?

@TimSykesEA

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