Since we first got together - over 50 years ago now - we have always enjoyed being out in the countryside, but paid work and family commitments didn’t seem to leave much spare time for voluntary work. However, some 25 years ago, we found that we were beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel with the offspring well on the way towards independence, and, as a result, some weekends when we could again choose what we wanted to do.
On moving to Cumbria, we had joined Cumbria Wildlife Trust and it seemed the obvious organisation to volunteer for. Initially, we simply went to official work parties and enjoyed the experience so much that, at the age of 55, we took the decision to go into part-time employment in order to free up a couple of days every week to do additional work for the Trust. As we spent more time on nature reserves, we realised that it was the ones based on limestone that appealed most. Thus began our long-running involvement on nature reserves in the Kirkby Stephen area, mainly Smardale, Waitby Greenriggs, Argill Woods and Augill Pasture.
Initially, we used our extra days to follow up on any left-over work from work parties, having learned any requisite skills when under direct supervision. In time, we began to see opportunities for work, and would raise these with Reserves Officers to get permission to proceed. In this way, we started to develop skills which allowed us to tackle most of the practical tasks likely to be encountered on a nature reserve: walling, step and revetment work, coppicing, hedge-laying, drainage, fencing, scrub management, etc. As we broadened our range of activities, we found ourselves on the receiving end of really useful training/courses organised or paid for by the Trust. Of course, whilst doing all of the above, we have had the privilege of seeing at first hand the wonderful flora and fauna of the nature reserves, and have benefited from many casual ‘lessons’ as we have encountered scores of knowledgeable visitors along the way. With the increase in our knowledge, we have been able to take part in many enjoyable surveying and monitoring activities.