A call is going out for us all to help protect the South Downs - even if we only have a couple of minutes to spare.
The South Downs National Park Authority (SNDPA) says everyone can help make a difference through actions large and small.
According to SDPNA volunteer development officer Daniel Greenwood, current opportunities range from ‘microvolunteering’ to working as a volunteer ranger or joining one of a number of groups dotted across the national park.
Microvolunteering provides a flexible way for busy people to help preserve landscapes, wildlife and cultural heritage in short, convenient, bite-sized chunks.
The focus is on ‘easy, on-the-go activities’ which only take a couple of minutes thanks to smart phones and the internet.
This could take the form of general species monitoring via the iRecord app or website - to date, microvolunteers out on a stroll have monitored rights of way, held two-minute beach cleans and spotted garden birds, moths, reptiles and amphibians.
The 300-strong volunteer ranger service works with the SDNPA to help conserve the special qualities of the South Downs by improving and promoting its landscape, wildlife, public access and heritage.
Together, volunteer rangers give over 16,000 hours of their time every year. They contribute to protecting and enhancing the park, help people get better access to it and support the work carried out in the many organisations which look after its landscape and wildlife.
Daniel said: “The help provided by such an enthusiastic and dedicated group of people has made it possible to support and deliver a huge range of projects that could not otherwise have been achieved.”
In return, he said they gain new skills, discover local history, make new friends, get exercise and get out and about and enjoy nature and the countryside.
Finally, volunteer organisations which work in or for the national park and are looking to recruit volunteers are also encouraged to register and publicise the sort of work and help they need.
Among others, the groups include Stedham and Iping parish’s History and Natural History Group, the county-wide Sussex Ornithological Sussex and the Graffham Down Trust, near Petworth.
Daniel said: “To find out more, see our volunteer map for opportunities across the volunteer map and keep an eye on social media.”
‘Full countryside training’
The South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA)’s volunteer ranger scheme trains and supports people who are passionate about our national park and have a bit of spare time on their hands, giving them a chance to learn about countryside management and make a big difference.
According to SDNPA volunteer development officer Daniel Greenwood, volunteer rangers’s activites are largely based on protecting and enhancing the national habitats of the national park.
They might find themselves working outdoors on practical conservation work and access improvement, monitoring the condition of the South Downs Way National Trail or other access in the area or taking part in office-based projects.
Daniel said: “Tasks range from clearing chalk grassland to helping with work in our area offices or headquarters.”
Outdoor volunteer rangers, for example, carry out practical conservations and public relations work, with the balance varying slightly according to the area, season and people’s area of expertise, but also provide advice and guidance to visitors.
Daniel said: “They normally work in their local area, as part of mid-week and/or weekend working groups - we provide transport for these outdoor groups from local pick-up points and training, tools and equipment are always provided.” Daniel said people generally like to be part of social groups in their local area.
Typical tasks include chalk grassland and healthland conservation, scrub clearance, woodland management, hedge laying, improving public access and surveys of flora and fauna. These are supported by on-the-job training from team leaders, plus compulsory classroom-based training to gain a broad introduction to countryside management and conservation.
Would-be members of this army of volunteer rangers need to be 18 or over and comfortable committing to 12 days’ volunteering a year, with a few exceptions.
While many are of retirement age, the SDNPA has been working on youth engagement and has now created two volunteer youth ambassador roles.
To find out more, read the Voluntary Ranger Service’s newsletter, Downland Thymes, and details of how to volunteer at www.southdowns.gov.uk