Setting up a volunteer group

Setting up a volunteer group

Padworth Common by Nigel Williamson

Nigel Williamson explains how he came to set up and lead the volunteer group at Padworth Common

Padworth Common nature reserve is a rather unique and diverse site of lowland heath, wet alder woodland and secondary woodland on and around a gravel ridge running from Brimpton to Burghfield and adjacent to the Hampshire county border. It's managed by BBOWT on behalf of West Berkshire Council, and is used for informal recreation by horse riders, dog walkers, local residents, bird watchers and conservation volunteers. The site is an ideal habitat for some of our rarest species including nightjar, woodlark, Dartford warbler and adder.

I first became involved with BBOWT in 2013, eight months after suddenly losing my wife of 39 years to cancer. All the joint retirement plans came to a sudden halt. What to do !?

It is at this point you need something that gives your life extra purpose. I wanted to be outdoors, preferably in voluntary work with a conservation slant, “work” to help me stay fit and keep me out of mischief in my later years. 

So with some advice from our then West Berkshire Living Landscape Conservation Officer I joined a Wednesday group working primarily on Greenham Common. I am still volunteering with many of them today. Great bunch.

At a later date, a group was formed to work at Padworth Common, just once a month. The reserve is only a six minute drive away from my home so it was an obvious choice to join that group as well. 

In late 2020, BBOWT moved Padworth Common under the management of the East Berkshire group of reserves staff, as part of an overall restructuring. Covid-19 had stopped any volunteer working parties but as restrictions were lifted and volunteers allowed to return it seemed that Padworth Common would have no resident volunteer group under the new management.

During February, in conversation with the Land Manager (West Berkshire), he suggested I apply for the role of Key Volunteer and revive the group. So here I am. Now in a new role with many thanks to my colleague volunteers without whom there would be no group.

The role does require planning, responsibility and, yes, enthusiasm and purpose. The rewards however are high. The satisfaction of doing something worthwhile for the environment, conserving the habitat for wildlife and providing a reserve for future generations. Above all enjoying yourself with other likeminded people.

My co-volunteers prefer working in small groups so at present we have two teams of six, twice a month, (once a month during July and August).

This summer we have been constructing several scrapes to encourage the regeneration of heather. Clearing public footpaths, permissive bridleways and the many smaller paths that need to be kept clear, and then there is always the bracken and silver birch! 

This winter, we will have a programme of scrub bashing, removal of silver birch encroaching onto the heathland, and pond and ditch maintenance. 

My life as a volunteer has become quite varied since that lucky beginning as I am a member of the West Berks Field Team  too, undertaking emergency repairs, safety audit work and basically anything else that needs doing. General dogs-body and (post) hole digger! 

During the autumn and winter months I enjoy being part of a small, select group laying hedges in the old fashioned way, and, finally, I am also part of a repair team at the Nature Discovery Centre at Newbury.

Never a dull moment. Varied interesting work, working with some great people; being outdoors helps you keep healthy and there is one certainty, you never stop learning!  You should try it!  

Nigel Williamson, Padworth Common key volunteer

(Message from a lady fighting cancer for the third time: “You can’t wait until life is not hard anymore, before you are happy.” How true.)

If you're interested in setting up a local volunteer group, please contact us to find out about the skills needed and where we most need new groups across our three counties.