Oct 03 2019

Stories and pictures from our first ever Scotland volunteering conference

Our first Scotland Volunteering Conference was held at the Birnam Arts and Conference Centre in Perthshire over the weekend.  



I would like to thank each and every one of you that came along to the event.  For me it was all about the people, and the connections we all made.  It was wonderful for me that I was able to meet volunteers I’d never met before, as well as catching up with many familiar faces.


Sixty five volunteers and their partners were joined on Saturday 28th by twelve staff.   22 volunteer roles were represented and the event began with an activity to demonstrate that, which involved lots of standing up and sitting down to show what roles people do, and led by our wonderful MCs for the day, Jill Donnachie (Communications and Development Manager) and Ian Baird: volunteer Speaker, Woodland Creation Champion, Event Volunteer, Warden and Woodland Working Group Member. 


Our wonderful MCs…Ian Baird and Jill Donnachie


Carol Evans, Scotland Director, then gave us an inspiring introductory welcome, reminding us of how we have grown our numbers from just over 150 in 2016 to around 350 now.  Amongst other things, she shared with us some stats from the Volunteer of the Year Awards Nominations for 2019.    Once again we’ve smashed it in Scotland!
Out of 132 nominations in the UK, 35 are for volunteers in Scotland, 7 are by volunteers for their volunteer managers, and in total the 42 nominations for Scotland volunteers and Volunteer managers represents 32% of the nominations, even though we only have 12% of the volunteers!  These stats show to us that we are all part of one big WT Scotland team and that volunteers are an incredibly valued part of that team.  We hope that those of you who have been nominated can make it down to the ceremony in Newark in November.


Carol Evans’s opening speech



Then Michael Peacock, Head of Engagement and Volunteering for the Woodland Trust, gave us a UK update.  He talked in particular about how our success in achieving Investing in Volunteers accreditation has given us a springboard and benchmark against which to expand and improve.  His slides showed, drawing from statistics from the IIV surveys, that our WT Scotland volunteers are consistently more aware of procedures and how their roles work than the UK WT volunteer average across all our countries and regions…another sign of how closely we all work together.


Micheal Peacock


Following on from this we heard from two members of the Loch Arkaig team: Jessica Maxwell, Project Development Manager, and Lewis Pate, Wildlife Advisor.  They shared the fascinating history of the site, our plans for the future in terms of forestry and deer management, and stories and beautiful films and images of wildlife.  Lewis is responsible for looking after our ospreycam and nest, protecting it from predators such as the pine martens that took all three eggs last year.  He also monitors other species such as white tailed sea eagle, wild boar and red squirrels.


Lewis Pate and Jessica Maxwell tell the Loch Arkaig Pine Forest story


Syd House, former Perthshire and Argyll District Conservator for what was the Forestry Commission Scotland, now Scottish Forestry, gave us a white-knuckle ride through 100 years of the Forestry Commission in Scotland.  It was a feast of interesting stories and images!



After a delicious lunch and plenty of time for catching up with friends old and new, we ran 5 workshops, twice, so that everyone could attend 2 different ones.

Here are some photos from all 5:


An introduction to Ancient Tree Recording





Tree pests and diseases and tree ID guided walk




Willow weaving and raptor nests hands on workshop!




Woodland photography



Chocolate making with wild plant ingredients.




Gathering after the workshops, 9 staff members sat on a panel for a Q&A session,.  Questions covered diverse topics such as tree disease, lynx re-introduction, tree planting targets and so on.




Then it was time for our drinks reception, accompanied by Karys Watt, a local fiddler who played tunes about local trees such as Neil Gow’s oak.




Pete Cairns, from Scotland The Big Picture then wowed us all with a spectacular and moving talk about re-wilding in Scotland.  It was incredibly inspiring.




Last but not least, the wonderful venue team provided us with a delicious candlelit dinner.  What a wonderful way to wrap up a brilliant day.



The next day with the sun shining again, 22 volunteers headed to The Hermitage for our 2nd conference day.  The National Trust for Scotland’s Ranger and Site Manager gave us a fascinating guided tour of this stunning riverside woodland, with it’s waterfalls and follies.  Then they left us and we walked further upstream to beautiful Rumbling bridge, for a well-earned picnic by the River Braan, recording and identifying ancient and veteran trees along the way!




I’m looking forward to the next one already!


Matilda Scharsach

Scotland Volunteering Development Officer


  • JudithNeil

    A very comprehensive report of an excellent conference. Some great photos. Thank you so much for organising it, Matilda.

    October 4, 2019 at 9:41 pm
  • Philip Graves

    Many thanks for a great weekend, Matilda and the rest of the team.

    October 14, 2019 at 9:53 pm
  • Judy Dowling

    Fantastic day! From start to finish (although had to leave before dinner). Well done to all concerned-lets do it again sometime!

    October 25, 2019 at 4:59 pm
  • AlisonStewart

    This article sums up the conference, which for me was a weekend of inspiration and learning! Thank you Matilda and the rest of the team for all the work that went into making it a success.

    October 27, 2019 at 9:39 am

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