May 05 2022

Celebrating 50 of The trust with hearing from some of our South West Volunteers

A huge thank you to all of our volunteers who sent in information on what they do as a volunteer for us. All these were on the South West landing page at the online National volunteer conference, they are too good not to share again.


Alan Harvey 

I have always loved trees and when I heard about the Trust and its work back in 1979 I knew I had to join! 

I still have the joining letter, which Kenneth Watkins signed, and is dated 27th March 1979, I have attached a photo. 

My first volunteering was being a voluntary warden for Hardwick Wood near Plymouth, and  I have a letter from Kenneth Watkins  on this too, dated 2nd August 1983 (photo attached).  It was not a particularly arduous role, basically I had to ‘keep  an eye on the woods’  but I was just pleased to be involved in some small way in protecting woodland. I do remember though helping to organise an open day there in July 1987 when we set up a small marquee in the wood to celebrate European Year of the Environment.  And I think I led walk or 2 through the wood. 

After that I did some work on Ancient Tree Verification, my favourite tree was an Ash (Ash is my favourite tree anyway) in Central park Plymouth which I am pleased to say is still there, though it was rather severely cut back a couple of years ago because of dieback concerns. 

I retired a year ago which has given me more time to volunteer,  last Autumn I found out about the volunteer group at Avon valley woods in South Devon,  and now regularly go out with them.  They are a really friendly and positive bunch, and it is great spending a day in the Woods, and knowing that you are helping  to protect trees and the environment, and making new friends too. The Avon valley woods were the first Trust woods I visited after joining in 1979, so it seems special to be back there helping out 43 years later!   

If you need any more recollections don’t hesitate to ask, though probably enough already!  I’ve also attached 2 photos of me in the woods should you need them, though not great shots, sorry. The tree planting (me holding the tree) is at Avon valley orchard last week. 

Brian Jones

Veteran Tree Verifier and other things

Retired Town Clerk, Ross-on-Wye

It all began for me when my wife got me involved with a project tracking lesser spotted woodpeckers for Herefordshire Nature Trust. I call them ‘never-spotted woodpeckers’ – I got bored, and turned my attention to trees. Trees don’t move, happily!

Since 2012 I’ve been travelling to verify ancient trees for the Woodland Trust – I’ve verified loads and added over 9300 of my own discoveries to the Ancient Tree Inventory, having been trained by Herefordshire Nature Trust (Now Herefordshire Wildlife Trust). I trained as an Observatree surveyor in 2013 at the start of that project.    My training included working with the Genie II machine, extracting DNA from ash trees for confirmation of Chalara Fraxinia. What I learned was invaluable but DNA extraction was never used in practice.

I trained as a Tree Seed Collector and did some collection work, but had to withdraw due time pressure elsewhere.

Over the years I have taken a turn at stand manning at events including the Royal Welsh Show and the ARB Show.

Sitting in front of a PC, I have added tree Threat Detection to my list of Woodland Trust tasks, mainly covering Herefordshire but with a notable success in Cheltenham as well.


I get to explore some of the most marvellous countryside in the country, and the work seems worthwhile and appreciated. I’m over 80 now, but I’ve no plans to stop although I have slowed down and more or less withdrawn from Observatree survey work.

Elaine Salmon Stratton

My first attempt at hedgelaying at Stratton Woods!

Some of the reasons I wanted to become a conservation volunteer was to learn new skills and crafts such as hedgelaying and coppicing, to meet like minded people, and to spend time  working outdoors in such beautiful places as Stanton Park and Stratton Woods.

Helping to maintain these ancient woods for people to continue to enjoy for many years ahead is deeply satisfying.

I have been volunteering for around 6months.

Geoff Foale

Although I started my working life as an apprentice printer, back in the days of lead type and letterpress printing, most of my employment was as a commercial fisherman chiefly fishing for crabs along the South Devon coast.

While working, I gradually developed an interest in the wildlife which surrounded me. Eventually, in my early 60’s,around 10 years ago, I began to realise that early retirement from such an arduous employment would be a good idea.

This gave me the opportunity to spend more time studying wildlife in greater detail. But I soon realised it would be necessary to specialise in a more limited number of species.

I found a lot of people were watching birds, although actually making worthwhile records of those sightings was a difficult process.

Insects had been one area of interest to me and I found many blank spaces on the local insect distribution maps. So I began to look at insects in a more detailed way.

But actually identifying and recording what I was finding proved to be more complicated than I imagined.

There were a few rather expensive identification books but they were mostly written in a hard to follow traditional style which would have been familiar to Victorian entomologists. A few more modern general insect books, including photographs, were appearing but they tended to cover such a wide range of topics that misidentifications easily occurred between similar species.

Even when I was certain of my identifications I found it was difficult to actually get my sightings into official records. There had been County Recorders for many years but I found many of them only accepted records from within their established group of recognised entomologists.

Academic qualifications were required for many recording schemes and it seemed to me that a degree in classics from Oxford or Cambridge Universities was sufficient for recording entomology while a few O Levels from around 50 years ago was not acceptable.

Even if you did manage to get accepted into some recording schemes there was a complicated recording form which had to be surmounted.

Then, as the Internet increased in usefulness a few new style recording organisations appeared. The Hoverfly Recording Scheme was one of the early sites which particularly interested me and they had an Internet site where you could post photographs for double checking.

This meant, with the improvement of digital cameras, it was now possible for amateur recorders to submit data to national recording schemes.

The next major advance was the development of I Record which is an easy to use central recording site for the reporting of a wide range of wildlife, providing you have a good quality photograph. Although there was and still remains quite a few gaps in the range of reportable species.

However, for many species there were now friendly groups of experts who would check your photographs and offer advice when you did get something wrong. This resulted in thousands of new records from allover the country and many of those empty record maps began to get filled over.

Latterly, some new and better written identification books have been published with updated and simplified identification keys. Many of these new keys include photographs and sub notes which work for everybody, not just the person who wrote them.

I tell this little story to the identification key writers. Back in the early 1960’s we had a pair of farmer brothers living nearby and they inherited a pair of shire horses. They were delighted to have some horses on the farm again, just like when they were children. Logically, they should have shared the horses but they decided to each be responsible for their own horse. But, of course, that caused problems with telling the horses apart. Eventually they sought advice from the village schoolmaster who carefully examined the horses and remarked. ‘If you look closely at them it is obvious that the black one is larger than the white one’.

That, I am afraid, is typical of so many badly written identification keys. Too often I come to a major fork in an old key and have to decide upon the length of hind leg hair, for example. One choice eventually leads to a group of large mostly red insects while the other option goes to small black insects.

Many wildlife species can now be identified from good quality photographs, at least to family level, providing you obtain correct angles to show the relevant areas and some experts are creating mainly photographic keys. But some insects, plants and fungi still require destructive microscopic examination for a full identification.

This raises the dilemma over killing a specimen for identification. The general entomological response is that most species exist in good numbers and the taking of one specimen doesn’t make any difference to overall numbers. However, how do you know if you have a common form or the rare virtually identical alternative until you have closely examined a dead specimen.

How many common specimens have to be taken before finding the rare form? This is rather similar to those Victorian butterfly collectors who killed large numbers of uncommon butterflies while searching for variations. That practice, together with habitat loss, resulted in the local extinction of some species.

Bioblitz events are another practice which requires some thought because many people can each be taking just one specimen for later examination.

In recent years, many areas of countryside have been taken over by various conservation bodies who carefully manage the wildlife and plantlife which has now become available to everybody and this has been a boost to amateur recorders.

But when I am out in the countryside photographing and recording wildlife I often wonder about all those people who fail to notice the nature and scenery around them.

For example, dog walkers who only regard the countryside as a dog toilet and leave their evidence along the path. Some people are just there for arduous exercise and run or walk while only looking straight ahead, never noticing the wildlife or scenery.

Personally, I am an advocate of ‘slow walking’ which means stopping every few hundred yards to think about the history of the area and enjoy the total environment which people have worked hard to create.

Rewilding has become a popular catchphrase but the small print behind that headline includes a great amount of technical detail which is so often overlooked. Wild countryside requires a lot of very careful management to prevent a number of invasive species from becoming dominant and actually reducing the total diversity.

Tree planting has become another common idea but large dense unmanaged woodland areas often have a low number of visible wildlife and plant species. However, a careful mix of woodland and clearings with scrubby edges can significantly increase numbers including rarer species.

Increasingly common mild, wet and windy winters appear to be having a noticeable effect on traditional wildlife but there are winners as well as losers. A range of new arrivals and species which find the UK to be a borderline habitat is increasing.

More recording work is required and this is an area where amateur wildlife recorders can play an important role.

The Covid restrictions have resulted in an increased sale of moth traps and people are now doing important recording work from private gardens.


Hugh Clayton,

I’m just a bureaucrat in what I do as a Threat Detector, and there hasn’t been much

threatening activity to detect during the pandemic. The only pests I’ve ever had

to watch out for have been developers who think they can fob off opposition to felling

ancient woodland by offering a much bigger replacement patch of their choice

to be planted quickly with species on which they will be delighted to consult conservation

organisations. The term “low, low budget” hangs in the air, but isn’t mentioned.

I have been doing this since going to a Woodland Trust “Woodwatch” training session in

2010, and for a time I helped to compile the Woodwatch newsletter “Branching Out”.

I worked in newspapers for many years and in the 80s specialised for a time in local

government and the environment.  I’m afraid I can’t offer you photos of me doing

dynamic volunteering things things in woodland.

James Crawford


James has been a Woodland Trust member for over 25 years and has volunteered to look after the 5,000 saplings and shrubs planted in 2019 around the area of Avoncliff Wood called Cuffley Field.

Working alongside the woodland manager Joe Middleton, who is trying the options for plastic free tree guards, James is keen to see the final outcome and encourage others to adopt the best non plastic solution.

James’s inspiration for volunteering work with the Woodland Trust is that this fantastic wood is right on his doorstep, and he has always endeavoured to plant trees from acorns or walnuts wherever he has lived; and that’s many places!

As a recent project James, as a qualified drone operator, is seriously focused in studying up close the Ash buds in the crown of trees around Avoncliff Wood and recording what Ash Dieback is doing month by month.

Kind regards

James Crawford



Tim Constantine, John Lewis and Joyce Lewis  all regularly volunteer in Fingle Woods in a number of different capacities. s.

 Monday mornings in winter find us on steep, wooded slopes, high above the River Teign. Several years ago, at the start of the Fingle Woods NLHF funded project (a partnership project between the Woodland Trust and the National Trust), a Lidar survey was taken of the woods and their environs. This aerial view strips away the trees and ground cover we strive so hard in our regular Friends of Fingle working parties to regenerate. Instead, we can see the bare bones of the terrain beneath.

This reveals a strange pock-marked and lined landscape. Some of these circles are merely holes left by fallen trees or passing places on a forestry track. Some of the lines turn out to be ridges formed by planting conifers. Others, however, are archaeological relics: an iron age hillfort, a bronze age hut circle, charcoal platforms, abandoned mines, corn ditches, slit trenches from the war.

Our task, along with two other teams of volunteers, is to identify notable anomalies on the lidar map, record the grid references and then locate the sites on the ground. We then ‘ground-truth’ them, determining whether they are points of interest to be recorded online as part of the National Trust Heritage Records or marks of no historical significance. We have become ‘experts’ at locating charcoal platforms and have endless photos of almost identical features, together with bags of charcoal for dating and a constant fascination with the industrial past of these now quiet woodlands.

As volunteers we are constantly shape shifting. In summer our ground-truthing teams survey the ancient woodland boundaries that also permeate Fingle Woods. Together, since 2017, we have now surveyed all the extant boundaries (nearly 28 kilometres in all) some on more than one occasion. Our work has allowed the health of these boundaries to be mapped and management to be focused accordingly.

We are also all regular members of the Friends of Fingle working parties. We turn our hands to everything from removing conifer regeneration and gorse, to ring barking, planting trees, building bridges and fascines (to reduce soil erosion) and helping with visitor events. Fingle’s project manager has described us as a “mini group of foresters” and “a really useful project resource” but for most volunteers it is about “making a differencein such an amazing place!!”.


John Votaw woodland working group leader  Dolebury Warren

Here are a couple of pictures from the Dolebury Warren group…

The first is just having fun testing out a newly made Woodland bench.  The second is the hedge we laid at the last working party… I should have thought to get the team to pose with their creation.


Kay   Crawford

Kay has been a Woodland Trust member for over 5 years and has volunteered to mainly look after the new saplings and shrubs recently planted around the area of Avoncliff Wood called Cuffley Field.

Working alongside the woodland manager Joe Middleton, who is trying the options for plastic free tree guards, Kay is keen to see how the trees and shrubs survive with help from her vigorous weeding and resetting of the guards.

Kay’s inspiration for volunteering work with the Woodland Trust is that this fantastic wood is right on her doorstep and satisfies her passionate and professional interest as a talented gardener.

When not attending to the trees and shrubs Kay has a side project of doing a Dormouse survey in the ancient Avoncliff Wood. So far this hasn’t been a success, but it’s a case of slowly moving around this large wood testing all the areas out for a suitable habitat, and that is an enduring task.

Kay Crawford Wassailing at the heritage orchard Avoncliff Woods

Very pleased to say Joe Middleton encouraged us to have the first Wassail for our 4 year old Heritage Orchard. A local group jumped to the opportunity to imitate this old custom and it had all ages attend in the dusk of Sunday 16 January (as close to the 12th Night as practicable). Please see a volunteers story and photos below:

This January Kay and James have encouraged the first Wassail for the Woodland Trust Avoncliff Wood Heritage Orchard. These 52 locally sourced apple and pear trees planted in 2019 were praised and encouraged to flourish, by poems, a liberal dousing of cider and ‘toasting’. The toast is for the guardians of the orchard, the Robins. Most importantly the children who joined in had a lesson of all the benefits that fruit trees provide, but their parents and friends had the additional treat of mulled cider!

Madelaine Morris

Tree Health Champion

Here is a pic of me and my silver birch! And a short piece:

I started volunteering about 4 years ago when I retired. I signed up because I love trees and woods and all that’s in them. I previously worked in horticulture so had a bit of knowledge but I have learnt so much more since working with the Woodland Trust. And I always feel better after time spent with trees.

Ros Cannell Historic researcher

I volunteer as a ‘Local History Researcher’ for the Woodland Trust. My time is spent uncovering facts about Duncliffe Woods in North Dorset. Last year I had the opportunity to regale visitors to the Woods with stories from pre-history, medieval and early-modern history. It is a rewarding role discovering the past and interpreting the value of the Woods over many centuries

A Huge thank you to everyone who sent in photos & stories, please do send any more you have to Amanda at


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