Volunteer experiences

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Volunteering on our Conservation Weeks is often an inspirational experience for people, as is illustrated by the examples below.


Harriet Owens, RSPB Corrimony

"I was rather nervous being the first to arrive at Inverness Train Station in the morning but was quickly reassured with the greeting of beaming smiles from the group leaders. The other volunteers soon showed up and we instantly started chatting, comparing journeys and imagining what our week would entail.

The scenery we were working in was breathtaking. We were introduced to the site manager who gave us a brief history of the forest and surrounding landscape before thanking us for the work we were about to do. This immediately set up our morale, meaning we were enthusiastic to get planting. On our first afternoon alone the nine of us planted over 900 trees (a mixture of birch and rowan trees). If our motivation ever did have reason to lapse throughout the course of the planting, it would soon be restored by a welcome coffee break, usually accompanied by cake and the constant jokes which passed between the volunteers. We all quickly got to know each other and the rapport which built up was a fantastic accompaniment on the long walks to the planting sites and occasional river jumps and barbed wire fence climbs.

Each evening we had the delightful rotation of cooking duty. One of our member was vegan so I initially dreaded being responsible for cooking an entire vegan meal for the whole group. However, again my fears were ill founded. There was a marvellous Trees for Life Cookbook which has been compiled over the years with a plethora of great recipes to follow.

It is a fair summation that I had a wonderful time volunteering with Trees for Life. The landscape itself was inspiring, but the work I did to help restore the Caledonian forest really was rewarding. I have made some great friends who I will definitely see again and I will look back at the experience with incredibly fond memories. It was delightful to be able to escape the hussle and bussle of city life and learn a few more skills away from the workplace. This is a week I absolutely recommend to anybody looking for something a bit different. Do not imagine that it is a week for tree hugging hippies as this is far from the case. It is an opportunity to learn something new in a beautiful environment and contribute to a fantastic vision for our future generations. I will undoubtedly be back to visit the same spots in thirty years time to see just how well my hazel trees are doing."

Sara Lodge, Cannich/Cougie

"On our first day of work, we drove up to Glen Cougie, where our trees were waiting: slender Scots pine saplings, no taller than the screen of your laptop but already two years old. They were bundled in clutches of 30; we stuffed 3 bundles each into our fluorescent yellow postbags, grabbed our spades like members of a small but determined resistance army, and set off up the hill to our planting site.

When I reached the level where we were going to begin planting, my bag and my jaw dropped simultaneously. Looking beyond the valley beneath us I could see the snowy peaks of Carn Eighe and Tom a´ Chòinich scissoring into a perfectly clear blue sky. The air was absolutely still: no cars, no houses, no people but us for miles around. The scattered old pines below us on the valley floor, some of them three hundred years old, looked as dignified and graceful as the forgotten kings of an exiled race. We heard and saw a cuckoo on a dead tree nearby: here on the hills there had long been no trees living, only slippery deadwood from commercially-logged plantations. Until now. As I took my first tiny pine out of its wrapping, I had a sudden vision of the trees we were planting swarming to join the patriarchs in the valley below, to relieve them of their long and lonely guard.

While companionable, it is also extremely peaceful being up on a hill with a spade and a bag of saplings. You take breaks when you wish, and I enjoyed lying full-length on the heather, developing my freckles.

On day two, we built a polytunnel, a greenhouse made of plastic. We learned how to propagate aspen and saw rows of wild cherries, willows, junipers, alders and hazels, ready to be re-potted. On the last of five improbably sunny days, we were in Glen Affric, putting rock phosphate on young pines.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I got fitter: I started to breathe more deeply and to sleep more deeply too. I recommend joining the intrepid band of tree musketeers. All for one, and one for all."

This article was first published in The Weekly Standard, an American journal, in November 2009.

Natalie Allain, Glen Affric

"I am fascinated by the natural history of the UK and was keen to find out more about the ancient Caledonian Forest. Trees play such a vital role in the ecosystem and I wanted to learn about how conservation and restoration projects are helping protect and promote the regeneration of native forest.

My experience volunteering with TFL was nothing but positive. I have come away with a new love for the Scottish Highlands, a heightened respect for the majesty of trees and some great new friends! It was my first time doing volunteering as a holiday and I am already thinking about what I can do next! It is such a great way to experience somewhere new; discovering and learning whilst doing something positive for the world. I really enjoyed being part of a really diverse team of volunteers – the wide variety of ages and backgrounds gave us the opportunity to get to know people whom in everyday life we may not have the chance to meet.

This volunteering experience has definitely inspired me to do more work with TFL – I have already started asking friends if they want to come back with me in the Autumn and next Spring!"

Sarah Macavoy, RSPB Corrimony

"I had an amazing time volunteering with Trees for Life. I was quite nervous about meeting a new group of people of people who I would spend a week with. But it was fine – everyone was really nice and got along well. Our introductory walk gave us the opportunity to see what mature Caledonian forest looked like and how quickly an area could flourish when enclosed by a deer fence. Whilst in the forest, we stood together in silence for a few minutes to listen to our surroundings. Such a nice change to the hustle and bustle and constant noise associated with living in a city.

Dinner would be prepared by different volunteers each night. The meals were all very healthy and every meal was delicious. On our day off in the middle of the week three other volunteers in our group and I climbed a nearby munro (a Scottish mountain above 3000 feet) and were lucky enough to see some rare wildlife including a golden eagle and a pair of elusive ptarmigans.

Our group broke a Trees for Life record by planting close to 3000 trees during the week (2950 to be exact!). I had a fantastic time volunteering with Trees for Life. By the end of the week, I was feeling fit, healthy and had a huge sense of achievement as to the positive environmental impact our group of nine had made. The week inspired me in that even though there are a lot of problems in the world, people can make a difference. Volunteering is about getting out there and doing something to make a positive impact with other like minded people."


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