Dec 23 2021

Glen Finglas volunteering – it’s more than just “Where are the toilets?”

I was honoured as always to be invited to the Glen Finglas end of year gathering for the volunteer there, led by Gwen Raes, Estate Ranger.


As usual, it was an uplifting and friendly affair…the volunteer team are so positive, reliable, capable and sociable.


Volunteers and staff gathered in Brig o Turk Community Hall.



…and then a delicious lunch was served afterwards by the lovely owner in the Brig O’ Turk cafe opposite the hall!



Gwen and I updated on Woodland Trust Scotland plans for 2022, and on volunteering activity, including by Adopt a Path volunteers, the Woodland Working Group, the Woodland Engagement volunteers and the seed collectors and montane tree planters.


The amazing Woodland Working Group have been:

  1. Cleaning and painting location boards
  2. Removing Piri-piri bur
  3. Path work
  4. Removing Sitka (lots!!)
  5. Cutting back shrubs
  6. Cleaning and repairing bridges
  7. Setting up a tree trail
  8. Coppicing and thinning
  9. Vole guard and tree guard removal
  10. Drain clearing
  11. tree planting!!!


Maggie McCallum, one of the longstanding Glen Finglas volunteers, took all these images of Woodland Workig Group Activity and achievements.


This is from a session this year at the Drippan former settlement site, keeping the ruins clear of encroaching birch.


These images show various stages of the cleaning of the bridge.



A recent session in November thinning out woodland around a fenced coppice area by the path up the hill from the car park

A lovely picture of Carole, one of the Woodland Working Group leaders.



A really helpful thing that the 2 new leaders do is to grade the activities as easy, moderate or difficult to help group members with varying degrees of fitness and agility to assess if an activity is for them.


One of  the main highlights for me as ever was hearing from the volunteers – their feedback and stories from the year.


Many stories were shared about how important the volunteers were in engaging with visitors…and just how questions asked and conversations held were much broader than just “Can you recommend the best walks?”, or “Where are the toilets?” or “Can we take part in the pond dipping?”.


It seems that many volunteers at the Gateway Visitor Centre end up being engaged in much deeper and more philosophical conversations than you might imagine, and it struck me that in some ways the role sometimes falls into the zone of outdoor therapist!  This is so fascinating and I think that these conversations, albeit not being directly related to the logistics of the visit, help to enhance the visitor experience in a meaningful way – if the engagement volunteers have provided a kindly listening ear to visitors about their troubles, they have set them on their way for a lovely and perhaps more serene walk in the woods.


There was an inexperienced-in-the-outdoors family who all got bitten badly by ticks…the volunteers helped them out.


A man whose husband had died, and a woman who was recovering from a heart transplant both needed comfort and solace and the volunteers helped there too.


The volunteers said that they had begun to anticipate the different types of visitor, the associated type of questions, and what answers they will give.   They need to know about information outwith the estate e.g. “Where’s nearest tea room or wild swimming location or what’s the Woodland Trust’s attitude to foraging or deer culling?”…. “deep space” questions.. “What’s the best place to camp on the West Highland way, what’s that confetti stuff on top of the mushrooms, what was that big bird I saw… was it an Eagle?”


The volunteers related that there is a perception amongst visitors that the Glen Finglas Gateway is a tourist info site.  They are, however, happy to be community ambassadors.   The volunteer themselves fed back that all or them are enthusiastic and that  “the innate enthusiasm we all have is our greatest asset”. “We all sell the place”.


The mentoring that the Gateway volunteer team have set up has worked works really well.   It’s useful for new volunteers to see there isn’t just one way of doing things.. there isn’t a template have to fit into. All have different personalities and skills. They enjoy the freedom of being able to do it how they want.. get out on the paths with people or in the Gateway on a rainy day.


Well done team Glen Finglas…..and congratulations on this 25th Year of the Woodland Trust owning the site.


Read more here in this article, which includes a video of our 25 years of work at this stunning site, the Woodland Trusts’s largest in the UK!


Matilda Scharsach

Scotland Volunteering Development Officer





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