Volunteers are the lifeblood of the UK's National Parks. The incredible landscapes you experience in Britain's breathing spaces are protected and maintained by them. The unique and diverse communities you encounter are enriched by them.
We are incredibly thankful for the thousands upon thousands of hours our volunteers put into making the UK National Parks what they are, and each year we hold the Volunteer Awards as a means of saying "thank you."
The awards are presented in three categories to individuals, projects, and groups that have gone above and beyond the expectations of volunteers.
Jo Minihane volunteers at the Visitor Centre in the Brecon Beacons National Park and is an inaugural member of the Volunteer Patrol Team. Jo takes part in practical activities maintaining the grounds as well as leading and mentoring the MIND eco project group that looks after the wildlife garden. Jo is also part of the team that manages the Visitor Centre Carpark and patrols the nearby common, engaging with visitors to the National Park.
Jo said "I have volunteered for Brecon National Park, MIND eco group,Brednock wildlife trust and the uplands group for approximately 18 months. Volunteering up to 7 days a week, to me this is not work. I enjoy the different experiences and varied projects immensely and always look for a new opportunity. Every day is different and i have learned so much. The people I meet are wonderful and will continue my life of volunteering as long as posssible!"
Graham Ryan is a Volunteer Supervisor at the Vindolanda Excavations in Northumberland National Park. He has been involved with the Roman archaeological site and prominent landmark for over a decade. Graham works to ensure visitors are welcome to the site, explaining the history and process of discovery, greatly enhancing visitor experiences. Graham is an important resource for both the Trust and Northumberland National Park, mentoring new volunteers every year and helped many people to feel part of a community of a wider scale project.
The Nepalese Community of Brecon in the Brecon Beacons National Park are giving back to their community by improving and maintaining local footpaths surrounding the town. The small group has grown substantially due to more and more people keen to volunteer and engage in constructive practical work. The visible presence of the work group of all ages has raised awareness amongst other users of how diverse the National Park is, and how everyone can contribute to it.
Our judge Julia Bradbury said "Having restored a footpath along the River Usk, the Brecon Nepalese Community has worked to make the area accessible again to both locals and visitors. A multi-cultural community working at it's very best - this is an inspiring example of a community convergence driving to maintain the condition of their environment for everyone to enjoy. I know many other people will agree that the work done here is absolutely fabulous."
The Pondhead Conservation Trust is a small conservation charity in the New Forest National Park. The trust was created in 2014 by the local community to restore a unique area of the New Forest. The area of hazel coppice which had never been grazed has been gradually restored to create the New Forest’s first community woodland. The woodland is now completely sustainable, supported fully by its production of BBQ charcoal, a centuries old New Forest industry which had died out.
Derek Tippetts, Trustee of the Pondhead Conservation Trust said "We were delighted to hear that we had won the UK National Parks Volunteer Project Award for 2016. It is a fitting recognition for all our volunteers who have worked so hard on this community woodland restoration project. Since our first conservation event in October 2014 they have provided nearly 7000 volunteer hours and the difference they have made is clear for all to see. Not only has it enhanced the woodland wildlife habitat, it has also greatly improved its amenity value for the local population."
Recipients of the group and project awards will receive £1,000 bursaries to help facilitate future volunteering activity. The winning individual receives his or her choice of footwear from outdoor specialist and UK National Parks brand partner Merrell.
The full list of Volunteer Awards nominees can be found on the 2016 UK National Parks Volunteer Awards nominees page. Equally, the short list of candidates from which this year's winners were chosen can be found on the 2016 Short List page.
National Parks UK would like to extend a special thank you to judges Julia Bradbury for helping to judge this year's awards. You can find out more about Julia's outdoor work at: www.theoutdoorguide.co.uk
If you have skills and enthusiasm (or the just the willingness to get stuck in!) and you've been inspired to volunteer you'll find information on how to go about joining our other volunteers here