In December 1999 we moved to Weymouth, Dorset from Conwy, North Wales, where we had helped manage our local NWWT reserves for many years.
We joined the Dorset Trust and looked for weekend volunteering opportunities (we were still working then). Our first task was planting trees in a hedgerow at Haydon Hill in January 2001. This was with a small group of no more than 7 or 8 volunteers that met just once a month during the winter, on a Sunday, at various reserves. It was led by two volunteers, Bernard Franklin and Gordon Hobday. Sites worked on included a couple no longer managed by the Trust, at Muckleford and a small heathland area near Creech. Otherwise we helped with management at most of the reserves now covered by the South Dorset Midweek Group.
Numbers attending this group diminished and the last task was at Greenhill Down in December 2010. Breaks at this site were sometimes taken in the shepherd’s hut, still there at this time. One of the incidental pleasures of working on reserves is meeting the locals, some with long memories of how they used to be. At Greenhill we met a man who as a boy remembered the night the German bombs were dropped here that created the still very visible craters on the hillside.
Shortly after this task, Gordon sadly died and the group stopped meeting. Alternative weekend tasks were still possible by joining the Dorset Countryside Volunteers, who can often be found working on Dorset Wildlife Trust reserves. As this was a much larger group, the economies of scale meant much more could be achieved.
Fortunately for us, volunteering opportunities seemed to expand at the time we fully retired in 2013. Working parties on reserves became more frequent and professionally organised. We joined the South Dorset Midweek Group, ably led by warden James Hitchin, with our first task in February 2013 at Winfrith. Later we also joined the Lorton Meadows Group and then the Portland Group. These tasks run all year, so it was no longer just winter scrub bashing but all sorts of other management and survey work in the summer when we could appreciate the fruits of our labour.
As well as the tasks on reserves, we spent some time at Forston reviewing, sorting and consolidating the files on their ownership and leases and more lately joined the group making field surveys for auditing the SNCIs. We also used to help with the hand delivery of the Newsletter and Magazine until it was decided to send these out by post.
How can we ever forget how everything stopped in mid-March 2020? Exercise became an end in itself, we could no longer do anything useful. Or could we? There seemed to be nothing to prevent counting butterflies while walking (albeit slowly) along, so we kept these surveys going. Although this is done primarily for Butterfly Conservation, there are walks at Dorset Wildlife Trust reserves on Tout and Kingbarrow on Portland. We were rewarded with an abundance of Chalk-hill Blues and it certainly helped keep us sane. It was wonderful to finally have the midweek tasks on the reserves start again in October. A lot of effort had clearly gone in making it safe to do so. And very disappointing when it all stopped again for Lockdown 2.
Thankfully we now have the roll out of the vaccination programme and as mid-week working groups are almost exclusively of an age to be first in line for these, we can once again and with confidence enjoy the opportunity to get out and about doing something good for the Trust (and us!), most recently, at the time of writing, repainting the hide at Winfrith (see photo).
Ian and Georgie Laing