Improving access to residential volunteering

In this case study, discover how NatureScot is supporting a diverse range of volunteers to live on-site at nature reserves for an extended period of time whilst completing volunteering roles.

By Alison Matheson, Policy and Advice Officer at NatureScot

What volunteer roles do you recruit for?

At Beinn Eighe and Loch Maree Islands National Nature Reserve, residential volunteers assist with managing the wonderful reserve which is in the north west of Scotland and comprises wetland, woodland, moorland and upland areas. 

The role includes practical work as well as some survey work, and is mainly outdoors. It includes:

  • Tree nursery work
  • Woodland management
  • Deer management
  • Path maintenance
  • Removal of non-native plant species
  • Visitor management
  • Habitat and species monitoring
Why does your organisation involve volunteers?

NatureScot manages several National Nature Reserves across Scotland and we have a priority to connect people with nature.  Volunteering at Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve gives people the opportunity to work in a beautiful environment with skilled practitioners, discovering new capabilities and learning new skills. It can help people move into future employment within the natural heritage sector. Volunteers contribute to the reserve management, to benefit both nature and people.

How does your organisation remove barriers to volunteering?

We make our residential opportunities more inclusive by:

  • Advertising roles in a number of places, such as local community noticeboards and the Countryside Jobs Service. 
  • Offering flexibility around dates, with a minimum of 1 month living and volunteering on-site.
  • Paying volunteer travel expenses up to a limit. 
  • Providing accommodation free of charge. 
  • Including local people in non-residential volunteering days. For example, we recently partnered with a disability group from West Highland College UHI to have their members volunteer and help with nature reserve management.
What impact have volunteers made?

Volunteers help to make Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve a more vibrant place, allowing NatureScot to manage this wonderful site to a higher standard and deliver tasks that are unlikely to be done otherwise. The volunteers gain valuable practical skills and knowledge allowing many of them to go on to gain employment in this sector.

Volunteer testimonial:

“My time at Beinn Eighe NNR has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of my life so far: not only have I had the opportunity to learn about the ecology of an area I have always cared about deeply, but it has inspired me to return to University and finish my degree after previously leaving at the end of my 2nd year. I re-join in September!”

“I’ve volunteered for NatureScot for 4 months, getting experience at 8 different NNRs. I’ve gained a really detailed insight into land management and conservation practices. I’ve observed and even participated in deer management; getting a wider understanding of something I’d never seen before. I’ve gained knowledge of issues and different perspectives affecting land management in Scotland, and talking with different people within NatureScot has raised my awareness of the different legislation and statutory requirements surrounding this industry.  I now feel confident in my knowledge and experience in terms of getting a job in the conservation/land management sector in Scotland.”

“My time here at Beinn Eighe has been incomparable and unforgettable. It’s hard to put into words how valuable this experience has been, but the most significant things I have enjoyed are developing a sense of adventure, increasing my physical strength and learning so many valuable skills which I’m keen to put to good use back home. It has been such a great stepping stone in realising the career I want to pursue in wildlife filmmaking and I am forever grateful to gain that insight in such a mesmerising landscape. I can’t wait to return in the hopefully not too distant future.”

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