Volunteer vanguard set the tone when it comes to caring for our nature reserves.

Volunteer vanguard set the tone when it comes to caring for our nature reserves.

Volunteers play a crucial role at all Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves but at certain sites volunteers are very much part of the DNA.

One such site is Treswell Wood near Retford, the first reserve ever purchased by the Trust back in 1973. Like many of the sites we care for, volunteers were responsible for the site being saved.

Back in the 1970s Treswell Wood was threatened with being turned into a commercial forestry plantation, a fate that would have destroyed its ancient woodland character. 

Tresswell Wood NottsWT Peter Gill

Peter Gill

The prospect of a woodland with history stretching back beyond the time of the Domesday Book becoming a sterile commercial site covered with Corsican pine filled our members and volunteers with horror, so much so that a campaign was launched to purchase it.

Taking the step to become landowners was an ambitious move for the Trust, which was only a decade old with a very small supporter base. Raising the almost £9000 purchase price was a significant undertaking for local volunteers. Their ambition and drive to safeguard cherished local wildlife habitats still remains with the Trust today. In many respects we owe those activists a debt of gratitude that one of the richest ash/hazel woodlands in the region remains a wildlife haven nearly fifty years on.

In addition to wanting to save the site, people were keen to get hands on managing it and Treswell Wood was soon hosting regular workdays and even coffee afternoons. Anyone could drop in and have a look around whilst enjoying a brew. As well as carrying out woodland management volunteers set about systematically recording the wildlife of the site, an effort which continues today.

The wood has had a continuous history of supplying timber and was used for hop-poles at a time when hops were relatively common in Nottinghamshire. Described as a ‘impenetrable jungle’ before it was saved, successive generations of volunteers have worked to restore the traditional coppice cycle and the wood continues to provide timber for a range of crafts, from hurdles and gates to chairs and walking sticks. 

Dormice Lorna Griffiths

Lorna Griffiths

Treswell Reintroduction Dormice Notts WT Lorna Griffiths

Treswell Dormice Reintroduction 

Photo:  Lorna Griffiths

The restored woodland is home to wonderful displays of wild flowers including orchids, thriving populations of woodland birds and is now a safe haven for hazel dormice – re-introduced to take advantage of years of dedicated volunteer work to restore areas of hazel trees.

Many volunteers have worked in the wood for decades and some who record the site’s wildlife have been doing for as long as the Trust has been involved. Due to the value of its historic records, the Common Birds Census which was started by a volunteer back in 1973 is still underway and the wood’s bird ringing programme was started by a volunteer named John McMeeking in 1972. Amazingly John, who went on to become chairman of the Trust, is still part of the bird ringing team today.

Chris de Feu Tawny owl box Jo Surgey NottsWT

Chris De Feu surveying a Tawny Owl nest box

Photo: Jo Surgey

The volunteer led nest box scheme started by Chris Du Feu in 1979 is, like Chris himself, also still going strong.

Fast forward to 2018 and the Wildlife Trust cares for dozens of sites such as the famous Attenborough reserve, the spectacular Idle Valley and smaller wildlife sanctuaries such as our Woodthorpe Meadow in Sherwood, Nottingham, now cared for with the support of young volunteers from our Keeping it Wild group.

Caring for such a large number of sites and providing the support, tools and training needed to ensure that volunteers can play a full part in our work is a real challenge and one of the reasons that the Trust has launched the Nottinghamshire Nature Reserve Fund.

The challenge back in 1973 was to find the funds to purchase our first site, but the challenge today is raising enough funds for day to day management of a unique suite of reserves across the county. In comparison with the £9000 needed to buy Treswell we now need to find around £5000 per week just to manage the Attenborough & Idle Valley reserves.