Introduction to Woodland Stewardship
- 09 Dec 2023
2 Jun 2022
This year, SWA is marking Volunteers' Week with profiles of some of our own amazing volunteers, without whom we could not operate as we do today. Most of our volunteers work at the Green Wood Centre, helping us to maintain the site, or at local woodlands and community projects close by. In Wales, volunteers are essential for assisting us to run numerous social forestry programmes throughout the country.
Introducing Tony, who volunteers at the Wrexham Walking Group, and was nominated by our North Wales Project Coordinator, Kate, who felt his good work deserved some recognition!
I have been volunteering now as a walk leader for quite a few years. My role is part of a programme to help participants become more active and improve their physical, mental and social wellbeing. We walk through woodlands and natural green spaces where they also gain an appreciation of the natural environment.
The length of each walk is planned to suit the pace of the walkers so that all walkers can walk at their own pace. The walkers can feel safe in their environment as I will have carried out a risk assessment of the area before hand and I have a second walk leader to help me manage the walk.
I have always enjoyed the outdoors especially mountaineering and have climbed in some spectacular scenery in the Alps and the Arctic. It is in my nature to help and motivate others when I can and of course there is the good feel factor afterwards. I was a fully trained health, safety and environmental consultant working for myself when I was invited to attend a walk leader training course. I was immediately attracted and signed up.
I find volunteering has many physical benefits and spending time with others has helped to reduce stress levels and the health effects on my body, but more importantly it is so good to see the fitness of some of the walkers improve as time goes by to the extent that some have joined other walking groups which offer advanced walks and some have become walk leaders in their own right and I have many of these walkers in my group.
There have been challenges along the way but nothing that couldn’t be overcome. I have had to decide on a few occasions to cancel walks in some woodlands when strong winds have been forecast and sometimes only a few walkers have turned up for walks when the weather has been very wet. The pandemic has probably been the most challenging time with walks being cancelled. However, a weekly zoom meeting was organized so that walkers could keep in contact. This was very important as a good proportion of our walkers live alone. My role soon developed into providing a series of jokes lined up to tell during the meeting and to show scenic photos of some of my trips to wilderness areas across the world.
For anyone considering being a volunteer I would say first and foremost, volunteering is important because it helps you make a difference in the community/world. Almost everyone says they would like to make the community/world a better place, but volunteers are taking concrete actions to do just that. Another reason why volunteering is so vital is that it provides you the opportunity to connect with other people, many of whom have health issues, are vulnerable and may live alone. Often, the service you perform while volunteering allows you and them to meet new people that you may not have met otherwise.
A growing body of evidence also suggests that people who give their time to others might also be rewarded with better physical health—including lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan. It has certainly helped me.
I hope to continue my walk leader role as long as I am able (I have arthritis in both knees and will soon need replacements) but I find walking in a natural environment and breathing in fresh air takes my mind off my chronic pain and of course helping others to experience these benefits make it all worthwhile.
If you are interested in volunteering for Coed Lleol, contact your local project officer: https://www.smallwoods.org.uk/en/coedlleol/what-we-do/projects/