Volunteering with Moors for the Future Partnership provides an opportunity for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to learn new skills, have fun, get closer to nature and make a real difference to the future our iconic upland moorlands.
Tom Helliwell had worked behind a desk his entire life. When he was made redundant, he took it as an opportunity to do something radically different.
“I used to go camping in Edale when I was a little lad, but once I’d grown up and life got busier and busier, visiting the Peaks became just a distant memory. But when I was made redundant, I started spending time again on the moors. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was looking for inspiration of what to do with myself now I had the time.”
Tom found out about volunteering for Moors for the Future Partnership when looking for walking routes on the Peak District National Park’s website.
“Being a volunteer on these massive, open moors was something completely different to working in an office. It’s an entirely new experience and I was a little nervous because my knowledge of blanket bogs felt limited. I also wasn’t a very active person beforehand but years of volunteering have really improved my fitness. On my first say out in September 2014 we walked from the Snake up onto Kinder to measure the water flow in some of the gullies. The worry I’d had of not being good enough melted away. The staff were supportive and the view was sensational. I was hooked”.
Volunteering on science and conservation projects has helped improve Tom’s knowledge of plant and animals species.
“The staff I work with really know their stuff, so I’ve been able to act a bit like sphagnum and soak up all their knowledge. I still struggle sometimes with the different species of sphagnum, but with help from colleagues and the handy field guides I'm improving. I'm much better with the different grasses and other plant species though!”
Most recently, Tom has been involved with setting up the cotton grass cutting trials. These trials are investigating whether cutting cotton grass helps sphagnum moss to grow. Tom is also currently involved in his fourth annual dipwell campaign.
“I like being involved in a range of projects. It keeps me busy, as it means I’m always learning something new, which is important to me. I’m one of those people that always wants to be learning new skills and finding out new information. There’s so much to discover about the natural world. If I learn something new, it’s been a good day”.
The moors are notorious for their wet, misty, and cold weather and it is always interesting to find out how volunteers cope with this harsh environment.
“I don’t mind the weather when you’re dressed for it. I was out with someone, on one of those wet, misty and cold days, who forgot the GPS so we didn't manage to locate all the sites we were supposed to. It ended up being a longer day than planned and we were pretty wet and miserable by the end of it. When I get home I like to unwind with a cup of tea and a few biscuits by the fire, I certainly needed it that day!
Tom regularly volunteers and this summer has been a busy one for him. At very busy times he volunteers between 1 to 3 days a week.
Tom why do you keep coming back?
“The moors round here inspired me to do something completely new. I do things I’d never even thought about doing before which has been invaluable to me. But more importantly, on one of the sites I regularly work on, there is a butty van on the road where we park. Having a bacon butty before lugging all that equipment across the moors definitely helps to keep me motivated. Although the last few times I’ve been the van hasn’t been there…perhaps I should ask to work on another site, preferably the one where the van has gone!”
Volunteers are invaluable to Moors for the Future Partnership. Thank you to Tom and all our volunteers for your continued dedication and enthusiasm. We would be lost without you!
Jane Price, who lives in the Peak District, volunteered for our Community Science Project.
Wanting to work in conservation she took early retirement from the NHS. “Volunteering is a brilliant way to get experience and to find out if conservation is for you.”
Learning new skills, taking part in science and getting satisfaction from taking part and knowing that your work is contributing valuable information about the moorland habitat are among the benefits.
"It is something that gives you a buzz," said Jane who has been involved in surveying specific types of bumblebees. She learned to identify different types of bees and improved her observation skills, and enjoyed working together in a team.
By getting close to nature, and learning how to observe and identify the different species Jane has noticed that it has changed the way she sees the moors.
"It has helped me see the moors in a different way and be much more observant about my surroundings."
Data collected and recorded on the national irecord website is shared with conservation organisations at local, regional and national levels.
For Jane meeting new people has been one of the highlights of volunteering. It has also helped her gain valuable experience that led to her taking a casual research and monitoring post, which then led to her getting a part time job with the Partnership as a conservation works officer.
Tony came to us as a volunteer eight years ago. After volunteering for four years, he applied for a job where he has since been involved with around 20 different projects.
“I love the South Pennines and Peak District moors. Even on the coldest, wettest days when the wind is howling, they are still magic places. The moors want you to know who’s in charge and it’s always them” says Tony Rogers, a Moors for the Future Partnership research and monitoring officer.
“I’ve been on these moors in everything from a thin t-shirt to 6 layers and I’ve enjoyed every moment! In fact, the wilder weather days can be some of the most memorable if you go properly prepared”.
“It’s really special to have been part of some of the conservation projects from the beginning and to witness their progress over the years. It really gives me a sense of attachment to these moors as we work to bring them back to health”.
Tony has been involved with the Kinder Edge sphagnum moss planting project since 2015, and this one has been a particular favourite. This project experimented with the different ‘forms’ that sphagnum moss can be applied in. Because of the lack of sphagnum local to Kinder, the sphagnum has to be grown or ‘propagated’.
However, propagated sphagnum doesn’t always come in mossy plant form. It can come in bead form (that look like peas) where each bead can have several different types of sphagnum moss in it. Sphagnum can even come in slime form!
“It is cutting edge research looking into which forms of sphagnum will grow better where. Being part of such change-driving research is amazing and I get excited by each new set of results that come in”.
Tony carries out the research as part of a team of staff and volunteers.
“The staff are really knowledgeable and I’ve learnt a lot working with them over the years; the enthusiasm of the volunteers is inspiring. They don’t have to do this, but they do and they love it and that keeps you smiling”.
Sometimes Tony isn’t in a group and ventures out onto the moors alone (with a dedicated buddy checking on his safety!). With no teammates to keep his morale up during bleak weather or long hikes he has to keep up his own spirits. But that’s not a difficult task for Tony.
“I never feel alone on the moors because there’s always something happening! There’s so much to see, hear and feel. Birds to listen to, mountain hares to watch, and occasional bilberries to taste. You might be separated from humanity, but you’re in the midst of countless wildlife communities. Although, sometimes I do wonder how I’m going to get my fingers to work when the wind chill is particularly severe!”
Tony has been hill walking all his life, but working for the Partnership has allowed him to experience the moors in a different way.
“It’s a real privilege to get to the wilder places away from the footpaths that people rarely have the opportunity to see, and to be there with a purpose, helping to return this special landscape to its former glory”.
When considering his life plans, Tony sometimes wonders when he’ll retire.
“This job is way too good for my mind and fitness to think about retirement yet. I guess it will happen one day but I don’t see retirement on the horizon any time soon, even from the top of Kinder!”
A UK-wide project giving secondary school students the opportunity to take part in real-world climate science