Ask any one of our conservation volunteers what it is they like about coming up in all weathers to do hard graft two or three times a week and the chances are you will get a blank stare. It’s as if the question is so ridiculous it doesn’t need an answer.

“Well what do you do while you’re here?” That provokes a lively response. “Chopping down trees, building fences, lighting fires, coppicing, removing unwanted vegetation.”

“We planted 600 new trees this spring.” volunteers Michael McSparron.

Just thinking about their labours seems to loosen the tongue.

“It’s about getting back to what’s important,” ventures Chris Hegarty, who applied to join the group after coming to last year’s Big Green Sunday event. “I thought after the BGS we would be doing things like pond dipping. Instead we’ve been dragging flag iris from the lake!”

“It’s more like labouring on a building site,” chips in Dean Shaw “If you like back breaking work in all weathers – come here!”

“They think they’re getting secateurs, instead they get a shovel and a shock!” quips Malcolm Railton, the first of this group to sign up last year.

There is general agreement that the work is tough, but Kevin Page gives a hint about what keeps them coming, “It’s really hard work, but it’s a team effort and when a job’s done we feel we’ve conquered it! It keeps you fit too.”

The recollection brings out the reflective in him, “I love the views and the place is lovely.”

The team spirit is evident in the constant banter between them. “Dean’s reputation for deforestation is unfairly deserved,” teases Malcolm.

It is also clear that Andy Pennington, the conservation consultant who leads the group, is a key part of what gets them out in all weathers. Andy has worked in farming and in conservation for years and effortlessly shares his knowledge and passion for the task in hand as well as the bigger picture. “He inspires us,” agrees Chris.

He isn’t the only one though. Minsteracres deploys it’s secret weapon to keep them on track, “Each day we work, Fr Mark finds us and imparts a ray of hope!” says Malcolm.

To ensure that the volunteers get the most out of their experience and Minsteracres benefits from their conservation work, Andy is planning regular training sessions starting with the much requested dry stone walling.

The training is not all one way: the volunteers themselves bring skills with them. Norman Little, one of the most recent additions to the team, is a whitesmith (working with cold metal) who fixed a gate which has been on its last legs for some time.

Nor are they all spring chickens. Alan Staines, one of the regulars come rain or shine, celebrated his 80th birthday this year with the team.

If you would like to know more about conservation volunteering at Minsteracres, contact Andy at, Jean Haldane, volunteer coordinator at, or call Minsteracres on 01434 673248.