The great outdoors volunteers

web_Deer fence construction on Harrisjpg

Every year, thousands of volunteers work behind the scenes in Scotland’s great outdoors. We speak to three. 

Why would anyone volunteer their time for free to work in the outdoors or to encourage others to enjoy more outdoors time? After all, there is no pay and the work eats into people’s precious leisure time.

Yet the volunteers talk of many rewards, including personal satisfaction, giving something back, pleasure in helping others and safeguarding the future of our outdoors environment. We spoke to three outdoors volunteers to find out more.

web_Give me Cycle Space celebration

The cycling leader

In 2012, after watching the British cyclists in the London Olympics, Phil Jones suddenly found himself “back in love” with cycling. His rediscovery of a sport he’d enjoyed as a youngster helped him to eventually shed 10.5 stones and to find a new zest for life.

Phil reveals that others often ask how someone like him, who was overweight and unfit, could start cycling. So he decided to help more people to get on their bikes.

Phil, of Cumbernauld, began by becoming a Skyride leader. This allowed him to lead other riders, usually beginners, on bike rides in his local area.

He also volunteered one day a week with a cycling charity, I am Bikes, (it no longer exists) and took a course to become a Cycle Trainer so he could teach children the Bikeability course and also trainer other cycle assistants.

Phil explaining bike maintenance to a Belles on Bikes training course

Phil explaining bike maintenance to a Belles on Bikes training course

Phil also volunteered as a marshall at the Pedal on Parliament campaign and discovered the group, Freewheel North on Glasgow Green, which specialise in cycling for all regardless of whether you are able bodied or not. They taught him how to pilot a tandem for a visually impaired rider.

Phil says: “I decided I needed to get all the qualifications I could so I could help as many people to enjoy cycling and realise the same benefits as me. Cycling had changed my life for the better and I felt compelled to help others too.

“In fact, all these experiences and qualifications led to the opportunity to work for Recyke-a-Bike on a one-year funded project, which was extended by another year. So my volunteering ended up with a paid job, in an area that I really love.”

Phil still volunteers alongside his cycling charity work. More recently he has become a qualified timekeeper and has taken his first coaching qualification with British Cycling. He volunteers with We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote and Pedal on Parliament.

He has also started a cycling club called Arria Wheelers. Phil said: “I confess that all of this takes up a huge amount of my time but I don’t mind because we have encouraged lots of riders to come and join us for fun social rides.

“Fran, my wife, has been sucked in by my obsession with cycling, too. She is secretary of the club. It was a case of, if I want to see my husband I’d better get on my bike, or so she says.

“I don’t know how long I will keep up this level of volunteering activity, but I am managing to develop my skills and experience so that I can keep myself employed within cycling and it’s all part of my continued personal development.

“And I have lots of ideas for how we can encourage more people to benefit from cycling. The sport can have a positive effect on so many people. I have experienced this myself or witnessed it in others and I want to share it with as many people as possible. I seem to be driven to keep on volunteering.”

web_James Brownhill, footpath maintenance on John Muir Trust’s Schiehallion.

The conservation volunteer

Looking for a way to enjoy more outdoors time after retiring, James Brownhill, pictured above, of Aberdeen, decided that volunteering for conservation charity John Muir Trust would be the perfect solution. Some six years on and he is delighted the results.

James, a former weather forecaster, says: “My job was based in an office and I enjoyed it very much but when I retired I wanted to spend a lot more time outdoors. I am not really a hill walker as such but I love doing things that are physically challenging. The conservation work with JMT is ideal.

“I get to spend many hours out in the countryside in some wonderful places and the work is physically demanding, such as fixing fences, repairing paths, tree planting, beach cleaning and clearing vegetation. It suits me very well and keeps me fit and healthy as I get older.”

As well as joining the JMT’s working parties once a month between March and October, James organises volunteers for a local JMT group. This requires giving up one Saturday each month throughout the year. James has also organised and taken part in one-off day and two-day events.

One of his favourite places in Scotland is Glen Nevis in the Highlands. He says: “I have discovered this magical spot through volunteering with the JMT. We have done lots of projects like working on the footpaths.

“I have also enjoyed volunteering on projects in Knoydart, the islands and across the north of Scotland.”

James is thankful to the JMT for a number of reasons. He says: “The volunteering work has been the ideal catalyst for me to spend quality time outdoors. I also relish the job satisfaction that volunteering brings and the chance to give something back to our fantastic natural environment.

“It has given me a purpose in my retirement and I have met lots of new people. I have also learned about conservation and I have reaped health benefits. I can’t recommend this type of volunteering work more highly.”

Sandy Maxwell is the Volunteer Co-ordinator for JMT. He says: “We rely on the help of several hundred volunteers through the year and many of them are regulars who have been coming on several work parties per year across a range of our properties and for several years.

“We are very grateful for all their hard work and for the time they give up to help with conservation.”

To support the John Muir Trust you can become a member, support a campaign or volunteer to help on projects.

The trail repairers

A group of mountain bikers volunteered their time to work with country park rangers to improve the existing path network.

GMBC repair team

Glasgow Mountain Bike Club members have been helping with remedial and maintenance path works over many sessions at Mugdock Country Park near Strathblane.

A club member, Graham Anderton, says: “The Mugdock paths and trails are popular with our club and we often ride them. Many other cyclists, walkers and horse riders also make use of the wide network of trails.

“However, we had noticed that there had been some erosion and weather damage and we approached the ranger service to volunteer our help.”

The track before repair work

The track before repair work

Maggie Ferguson is one of the Mugdock Country Park rangers. She says: “We were delighted when GMBC got in touch because we are always keen to work with enthusiastic volunteers to improve areas of the park.

“The work with the mountain bikers has been on-going over several years and this time they have also been assisting with new systems to keep water and rain off the West Highland Way. The work is of benefit to all users of the park.”

The track after repair

The track after repair

Graham reports that the work can be quite tiring but it is rewarding. He adds: “It’s also a sociable activity and we have met new people through the sessions. We feel that it’s our way to put something back into the park with some good, honest graft.”

See GMBC if you want to help with trail work.

Who do you volunteer for? Tell us your story.

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