Well not quite… but the excellent contribution of volunteers in the recent Olympics and no doubt the forthcoming paralympics has received the credit that is, without doubt, fully deserved.
However the work of the hundreds of volunteers who help maintain our national parks goes almost unnoticed. My knowledge may be limited to those in the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors but it is safe to say without them the park would be a poorer place, less well run, lacking on the ground information and less inspiring for the prospective visitor.
A few weeks ago I was out walking near Holcum Hole in the Yorkshire Moors and by chance came across a volunteer warden with his dog. Having discussed the dogs (initial common ground) we starting chatting about his volunteers role which seemed to have a fairly vague brief; in fact he had been asked to check the state of some of the far distance stiles which he was returning from, but there was much more to his role. We were soon chatting about the walks near and further away, he mentioned some of the conservation difficulties that the park was facing, wind farms (a particular issue for me!) and walking dogs in the area. The point being that he had both the time and enthusiasm to help and advise visitors on their holiday – paid staff are simply not going to have the time (hopefully the enthusiasm!)
However many volunteers are on more specific roles. Probably the best known are the many volunteers who help the Fix the Fells team whether on a short term project or on a more regular basis. I come across many of these chaps and chapesses on the navigation courses I run for Lake District National Park (on a volunteer basis) and they are a contented set, happy to help preserve our parks and in the specific Fix the Fells case, undertake some brutal back breaking work. However the results are nearly always impressive and with new techniques being introduced all the time increasingly less obtrusive.
There is a sting to the tail though. Volunteers are almost so good that it becomes easier to swap a paid worker with a volunteer. Throw in the cut backs within the National Parks which are currently targeted at around the 20% mark and the temptation to increase the number of volunteers is growing. Certainly some paid workers in the National Parks are less happy with the growth of volunteers and some even may worry about their own jobs. The inevitability of this throughout the public sector is clear to see as more and more people seem prepared to take non paid roles on the pretext of helping out the local community – a consequence that is seen in a positive way by the coalition and show cased throughthe concept of the Big Society.
Away from the right and wrongs of using volunteers from a political stand point there is no doubt that they are doing a great job and long may it continue. I certainly recommend a volunteering role to anyone who has the time and energy, our national parks need preserving and they need you to help.
Enjoy the walks
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