A Focus On Nature

Advent Calendar

Volunteering: The Greatest Gift – Laura Richardson

Welcome to our 2015 Advent Calendar series (#AFONAdvent)! For each day in the lead-up to Christmas, we have a post from an A Focus On Nature member on this year’s Advent theme: “The Gift of Giving”. We hope that you enjoy the series and have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

So you want a job in conservation? You want to learn new skills? Further your knowledge? Increase your confidence? Improve your CV? If there’s one thing that will give you all of these it’s volunteering.

But wait, there’s more! You get to see how things work behind the scenes, access to areas the public does not. Depending on the role, you may get to live on a nature reserve and be the first and last person there – opening times don’t apply to you. You will meet like-minded people; make life long friends and connections in a (sometimes literal) field that could potentially lead to a future career. You might even get a free t-shirt. Yes, there’s a lot to gain from volunteering.

This year I decided to go to my first ever BirdFair and I decided to do it as a volunteer. There were a few logistical reasons for this; as well as all of the above, it made things free and this was important at a time when I was fast discovering that being a poor graduate was even more terrifying than being a poor student. A free ticket and free camping saved me quite a few food shops worth of money.

Perks of the job - free camping!

I emailed the relevant people and was given a role on the catering team. I’ll be honest, when first assigned this job, the dreamer in me said “But I don’t want to be a caterer, I want to be a wildlife photographer”. If you ever get this voice, do as I did and shut it up very quickly. You see, while we were pulling our trollies around the bumpy grounds of Rutland Nature Reserve, I realised what I always end up realising when I volunteer: how much I love being a part of a bigger cause.

As soon as I am stuck in, I’m having the time of my life. Thoughts of improving my CV are gone and I just love being there doing my job, while walking past others in our signature blue t-shirts and knowing that they too are a part of the team making this whole event run smoothly. Being a volunteer feels like being a cog in a huge machine. The machine needs all it’s cogs to be working properly to remain at its best standard. I suppose you could argue that we were responsible for fuel; without us stallholders, exhibitors, even the VIPs and guest speakers would have gone hungry. The quality of the talks were pretty much down to us. Obviously.

Backstage watching Phil Sterling check a moth trap before the show

We were not “just the catering team” – we were the almighty catering team and we were essential to the running of this pinnacle event of the wildlife calendar. For as the legendary saying goes, “all volunteers are equal” (this is a thing now).

You never know who you might meet volunteering!

Whatever you end up doing, volunteering is crucial for events and charities like this. Yes, there is a lot you can gain but the best part about it is what you are giving; you are allowing something much bigger to do great things for nature.

On behalf of nature, thank you.

The view before bed at Rutland Nature Reserve


Laura Richardson is  is a nature photographer based in Cornwall. Her passion is communicating nature to everyone she can. Follow Laura on Twitter @LJPRichardson