National Parks Green Pathways is a collection of programmes to support careers in the Green Economy.
One such Green Pathways programme is called Green Beacons.
Green Beacons is all about training and supporting National Parks apprentices, employees, partners and volunteers to be youth leaders: inspirational figures that can help young people fall in love with being outdoors.
Training as a skilled volunteer for National Parks can be a life-enhancing, as well as a life-changing experience, as these three volunteers explain.
Miles Tewson, 26, from Glossop in Derbyshire, had completed his history degree and was working as a park keeper when he decided to learn new skills and volunteer. He joined the Peak District National Park’s volunteer programme after seeing an advert in a local newspaper.
‘I’d grown up around the Peak District and always enjoyed visiting the National Park so volunteering looked like a good opportunity to get involved with something where I could learn new skills and help out,’ he says. ‘I was working as a park keeper with the borough council and saw this as a chance to learn transferable skills and acquire extra knowledge.’
The scheme’s flexibility was a huge plus for Miles, who moved jobs to a town council parks position during the course. ‘I’m really busy with work during the summer but in winter there is more time to volunteer and the online booking system allows you to get involved as much or as little as you want,’ he says.
He’s enjoyed a broad range of experiences including a two-day hill skills course, alongside an outdoor first aid course. ‘I jumped at those opportunities because although I’ve always enjoyed walking, I don’t feel I had all the safety skills needed,’ he says. ‘Learning more about navigation as well as outdoor first aid really helped build my confidence – it’s great to have that under my belt.’
Along with a bat survey, Miles has tried dry stone walling and learned how to identify fungi. ‘It’s been great to dip my toe in and see what interests me as well as gain countryside knowledge from the National Park staff during the practical ecological sessions,’ he says. ‘I’ve volunteered with professionals, people with disabilities and everyone’s been keen to share their knowledge and have been easy to work with.’
He’s also helped with the Peak District’s Junior Ranger sessions for younger people. ‘Getting them outside and into nature to learn new things has been particularly rewarding,’ he says. ‘I’ve volunteered in the past but you don’t always get much from it, apart from the satisfaction of knowing you’ve helped. Green Pathways has allowed me to do that and learn some really good new skills, too. I’ve noticed that I always come back from sessions feeling really happy!’
Jessica Davison, 21, is a second-year Environmental Studies student at Northumbria University. She joined the Ranger Placement programme in Northumberland National Park during her gap year in 2019, to check out the opportunities available in outdoor conservation. In 2021, rangers nominated her for the Park Protector Volunteer of the Year Awards.
‘Because of this scheme I’ve done so many amazing things; from lichen surveys, to helping construct waymarking signs, including being in the workshop and drilling, to installing a new wooden bridge for a bridleway,’ says Jessica.
One of her best experiences was walking up the Cheviot Hills to plant the Sphagnum moss the group had collected the day before. ‘It was a beautiful summer’s day and we carted it all the way to the top, to help restore the peat haggs to improve their ability to store carbon.’ She had always enjoyed walking with her father in Northumberland National Park and after applying for their Ranger Placement Programme, was asked to join the project.
Participants must complete 10 days of work within the park over 12 months and Jessica assisted on the Park’s Young Green Leaders programme. She helped a mixed group with a navigation day at Simonside and also went with them to Hadrian’s Wall to look at protection and maintenance of its path. ‘The people who worked there were really canny and it was fascinating to see how they look after this World Heritage Site,’ she says.
She’s enjoyed the programme’s flexibility: ‘If you want to do more or fewer hours you can just email them, which is great, because I can fit it in with my university timetable.’ She’s also grateful for the opportunity it’s given her to plan her future career. ‘Being on the Ranger Placement Programme gave me a broad perspective of the things you can do in this sort of work,’ she says. ‘Together with my Environmental Science degree, working with National Parks has helped me realise that I want to be in a job that’s mainly outdoors.’
History graduate Freya Baggaley, 23, joined Yorkshire Dales National Park’s Up Skill, Down Dale youth volunteer scheme earlier this year. As well as meeting new people she wanted to discover more about the potential of a career in the outdoors.
‘As I was finishing university, my parents moved back up to Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales and I went with them,’ she says. ‘I felt very new to the community and was looking for a way to get into it when I saw an advert in the local newspaper for Generation Green. I’ve always been outdoorsy and interested in conservation so it appealed on many levels.’
The course offers a range of volunteering roles and experiences and through it, Freya was able to gain her outdoor first aid certificate as well as completing bee surveys, flower identification, stonewalling and bracken bashing.
‘Each month our organiser, Caroline, will find us something new and exciting to do,’ she says. ‘Last October she took us to visit a farmer who was doing some regenerative farming techniques and you can engage with conservation surveys, mapping, and do placements with different sectors to get as much experience as possible.’ The group also enjoyed regular social meet-ups and during one of these were asked if they would meet some of the Yorkshire Dales National Park board members. ‘To see that side of it was fascinating – they were really engaged with our ideas and keen to see younger people involved in the work of the National Parks,’ she says.
Volunteering with Up Skill, Down Dale has helped crystallise Freya’s plans for the future. ‘I loved doing my degree but realised I wasn’t interested in academic work and that many of my history interests are played out in a more physical way with my volunteering,’ she says. ‘The ethos of the National Parks is all about conservation in a way that a living community can engage with. Thanks to this I have built up my practical skill set and when the course ends next Spring, I can apply for more jobs in areas which appeal to me.’