Not only did they work hard to earn their Swindon Quality of Life Award, but a dedicated bunch of Swindon conservation volunteers has toiled just as hard to spend their prize money helping wildlife.
The Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s volunteer group Active Too has recently returned from a trip to help neighbouring Dorset Wildlife Trust conserve heath land at Upton Heath nature reserve, near Poole.
The Thursday group earned £500 in prize money for coming first in the Community/Voluntary category of the Quality of Life Awards last September. The awards were organised by Swindon Borough Council and sponsored by Legal & General.
“The idea behind the trip was to use the money to reward the volunteers for all the effort they put in and to say thank you for all their hard work,” says Sarah Stebbing, the WWT’s Swindon Volunteer Co-ordinator.
“The Active Too group normally carries out work on WWT nature reserves and other wild places in and around Swindon to keep them in peak condition. This time the Thursday group volunteers chose to visit a different type of landscape, and when they got to Upton Heath they rolled up their sleeves and started clearing scrub, particularly laurel.”
Laurel shades out native plants, according to Upton Heath Warden Andy Fale. “It’s a bit like a wildlife desert – although it’s green, nothing grows under it, and very few insects live in it, so we have to keep it under control.”
The reserve is home to all six British reptile species, including important populations of sand lizards and smooth snakes, Britain’s rarest reptiles. It also hosts a rare type of heather called Dorset heath, stone chats and Dartford warblers, while its boggy areas support many dragonfly species as well as carnivorous round-leaved sundew and raft spiders.
“We wanted to see how reserves in different parts of the country operate and the sort of things they have to deal with, and also to see different plants and reptiles,” says one volunteer, Les.
Sarah adds: “We had 14 volunteers with us and despite snowfall the previous night, we were able to clear a large amount of laurel,” says Sarah. “We ended the day with a fascinating guided walk around the reserve, and a feast around the bonfire on which we toasted marshmallows.”
Active Too is currently recruiting for the Sunday group which meet on the first and third Sunday every month. No prior knowledge or experience of practical conservation tasks is needed as all tasks are explained and guidance is given on how to use the tools.
“It’s a great chance for people to get involved in helping to protect wildlife, learn new skills and make friends,” Sarah adds.
The project is funded by the Cabinet Office and volunteering initiative GoldStar to encourage more people to volunteer. You can contact Sarah on (01793) 813592, mobile 07775 815597, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Pictured above: The group at Upton Heath