Inspiration and celebration at our 2018 Volunteer Conference

From willow weaving workshops to inspiring talks about conquering the plastic crisis, our 2018 Volunteer Conference was a huge success.

This year brought with it our ninth Volunteer Conference and as always a huge amount of work went into the planning and organisation of it from staff across the Trust, so a massive thank you to all who helped! 

We welcomed stallholders from Trust projects including the Carbon Landscape, Myplace and Merseyside Conservation groups as well as external groups such as Let’s Grow Preston, LEF Green Grants and the West Lancashire Wildlife Group.  Everyone is always so passionate about their particular area and this creates the most fantastically positive vibe.

Piper Hole Farm had a range of products to buy including locally produced goats cheese and goat soap, South Lancashire bat group offered lots of bat related goodies and John Lamb promoted his fantastic book, ‘Lancashire: A Journey into the Wild’.

Tom 'The Blowfish' Hird with Volunteer Co-ordinators Catherine and Laura

Soon it was time for the talks and awards, and after a brief introduction from our Director of Conservation, Tim Mitcham, the stage was taken by the world’s only heavy metal marine biologist, Tom ‘The Blowfish’ Hird, who highlighted the devastating impact of plastics on our seas and marine life.  Although this really is a depressing topic Tom brought it to life with amazing photographs and footage and made us feel inspired to make changes to protect our seas for the future.

Volunteers were then treated to workshops led by staff working on the amazing projects that we are running across the Trust. Myplace helped volunteers transform recycled pallets into everything from wall art to furniture, the team from Our Irish Sea explored the secrets of the Irish Sea, Connecting to Nature taught people how to make a simple decoration from willow and rush, and there was an opportunity to discuss hot topics in ‘Controversial Conservation’.One of the best parts of our Volunteer Conference is the Annual Awards Ceremony. Volunteers who have gone the extra mile throughout the year were nominated by staff and volunteers, and the winners were presented with a certificate and a copy of ‘Lancashire: A Journey into the Wild’ by our President, Chris Davies.

We were delighted to Highly Commend Martyn Parker for his tenacity through strife and tribulations. He has unceasingly applied himself to his volunteering and at the same time he is a pal to everyone who works with the group.

Unsung Hero was awarded to David Bretherton, our quiet and unassuming volunteer who inspires many people through his appreciation of all things nature related. He takes fabulous photographs of the wildlife and landscapes of the Flashes for us to use in interpretation, and inspires others to appreciate Wigan’s wildlife through his Facebook page, ‘Wigan Wildlife’, which now has more than 1,300 members!.

Wildlife Recording Champion was awarded to the lovely Joan Hunter for being so committed to nature conservation and species recording.As a key volunteer with the Biodiverse Society Project she was out in all weathers to explore, educate and record the species of Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside.

Wildlife Champion went to Carol and Owen Fawcett, Our Irish Sea volunteers who have collected, counted and recorded over 25,000 shark, skate and ray egg cases from local beaches to help marine conservation. The pair take up to 1,000 egg cases home after each event, soak them overnight and then spend hours methodically identifying the species and photographing each one for The Shark Trust.

Young Person of the Year was awarded to Joseph Taylor who regularly gets stuck in with our work parties in Bolton and at Summerseat nature reserve. Most Inspirational went to the hugely deserving Julie Norman and Ted Charnley, our wonderful Wildlife Watch volunteers who have been inspiring children for over 17 years at Lytham Watch group.

Conservation Achievement was awarded to John Docherty who volunteers with the Wednesday Wildlife Volunteers in Bolton and has been with us since 2010.  He led the group to becoming constituted and as Chairman he has helped them access much needed funding to allow the Trust to continue to supervise the group.

Our Mere Sands Wood Volunteers were awarded Volunteer Group of the Year for the huge scale and quality of their achievements.  From site preparation for a new Field Studies Centre to building a deck and access ramp, they have saved the Trust thousands of pounds through their hard work and it is sincerely appreciated. 

Newcomer of the Year went to Rod Foster who started volunteering Brockholes in October last year and has gone out of his way to build up as much knowledge as he can about the reserve, so he is always really well informed and ready to assist visitors to make the most out of their visit.

As the jam-packed day drew to a close Tim Mitcham gave us an update on what will be happening regarding the new legislation that we need to fill the gaps after Brexit. Volunteers were informed about The Wildlife Trust’s ‘Wilder Future’ campaign and how we need them to rally together to lobby MPs and Lords to support a stronger Environment Act. Finally, our Chief Executive Anne Selby wrapped up the day by thanking all of our fantastic volunteers for their continued support. Anne also filled everyone in on a very exciting new project called ‘My Wild City’, which will connect the people of Manchester with their local wildlife. Then, what better way to close such a wonderful day than by showing our brand new promotional video, which you can watch below.

A table full of knitted hedgehogs ready for the Volunteer Conference

Then the Conference was over for another year, and as volunteers said their goodbyes they were each handed a goody bag. This year we decided to include knitted hedgehogs to raise awareness about hedgehog conservation, but we didn’t realise quite how popular knitting hedgehogs would be! Once word got out many knitters and knitting groups started making little hedgehogs and we were receiving them in the post on an almost a daily basis. Well over 200 arrived here at The Barn, and those that didn’t go into goody bags are helping to raise money for the Trust and Chorley Hedgehog Rescue.

We can’t wait to see what next year’s Volunteer Conference brings!