It’s a beautiful spring day at Ribblehead and, with lockdown easing, visitors are out in force. For many it’s a first chance in months to spend time away from within their own four walls and enjoy nature unrestricted. Some are here for the first time – for others it’s like seeing an old friend again. What they all have in common though, is that their gaze tends to be focused upwards, either towards the arches of the viaduct, or the equally imposing sight of Whernside in the distance.
My attention, though, is downwards, and anything which might look out of place. A can of Coke, a crisp packet, a discarded face mask, a shoe in a stream (how do you lose ONE shoe?). Either way, it ends up in my bin-bag, and I move on to the next patch.
“You shouldn’t have to be doing that… but thank you for doing it.” Despite the warm weather, the man speaking is dressed in leathers. Clearly one of the many bikers out for the day, many of whom stop off at ‘The Fourth Peak’ tea-van, which is doing a brisk trade today. “You’re welcome, it’s my pleasure,” I say with a smile and carry on my scavenger hunt.
And it really is my pleasure. Because, despite holding down a full-time job and having three young children, I can think of nowhere I’d rather be than on a rare day off, litter-picker in hand.
I’m on an Access Duty with fellow volunteers Liz and Nigel, and today isn’t just about clearing up other people’s detritus. It’s about public engagement, offering help and advice, checking infrastructure, looking out for anything out of the ordinary, and just generally being the welcoming face of the National Park Authority. What I have increasingly found though, is that while I’m mainly there to offer my time and effort to the National Park, I get so much in return.
I’d always taken the Yorkshire Dales for granted. A short drive away from home, it was just THERE. Somewhere to go for days out, with or without kids in tow. However as I got older, I found it took on a different meaning to me. With an increasingly hectic and pressured life, the Dales became something of a lifeline. Somewhere to go when I needed to get away from it all, to replenish the physical, mental and spiritual batteries. So when I saw an opportunity to sign up as a volunteer at the back end of 2019, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to do my bit to ensure the Dales is there for my children to enjoy in the future as much as I do now.
To my surprise – given my lack of practical skills – I was accepted. I was ready to dive head-first into volunteering, but the coronavirus had different ideas. Much of 2020 was a write-off, though I did manage to get some volunteering done, from repairing the Dales Way footpath to meeting and greeting visitors at Malham. I learnt first aid and got to meet some of the other amazing volunteers and staff at the Authority.
It’s now nearly summer 2021 and the Dales, like the rest of the country, is open for business again. I’m scanning my work rota and the Better Impact app to see where I might be able to fit in another volunteering duty: ’19 June, Practical Task, Malhamdale’. I’ve no idea what’s involved – it could be landscaping, barrowing, some path repair work, or even some more litter-picking. I don’t mind, just sign me up please.
A huge THANK YOU!
Volunteers’ Week is an a time to recognise and say thanks for the fantastic contribution millions of people make across the UK through volunteering. Our wonderful Dales Volunteers here in the National Park are no exception. We couldn’t do half the work we do without them.
Want to get involved?
And if you are a young person wanting to play your part and learn new skills, take a look at our Generation Green project, which is recruiting youth volunteers, as well as offering opportunities to get involved in nature discovery and conservation. Want to make your voice really heard? We are currently seeking two youth representatives on our Management Plan steering group.