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Super year for Smithills Supporters Group

Since the start of the Smithills project, we have always relied on our volunteers. Following one of the largest local public donations the Trust has ever received, there was great interest from the people of Bolton and Greater Manchester to get involved with the running of Smithills.

In 2015 we started with three volunteer wardens. As 2017 comes to a close we have just under 100 members of our Smithills Supporters Group. This workforce has and will continue to be a crucial part of this project and this blog is about celebrating everything we’ve achieved together and what roles our volunteers will take during our five year Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) project.

Volunteer wardens

We were very fortunate when we started this project in 2015 to have three volunteer wardens join the team. The rangers meet each Monday to do a site visit and check for any new developments that need attention. This includes storm damage, littering, flooding and footpath erosion. They are our eyes on the ground.

We were especially lucky because these original volunteers were very familiar with Smithills. Alex Lidis, Pete Hargreaves and Lawrence Marsh have excellent knowledge and passion that ensured the project hit the ground running.

Today we have nine volunteers in the warden role, including Mike Foster and Tony Greenwood. As we move through the project this role will include everything from tree tube removal to marking the boundaries of our new tree planting areas.

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Our volunteers have turned Smithills into a remarkable woodland (Photo: WTML)
Our volunteers have turned Smithills into a remarkable woodland (Photo: WTML)

Event volunteers

Over the past two years we’ve run a handful of larger events, aimed at engaging the public with different aspects of Smithills. The two big ones have been our bioblitz and the 120th anniversary of the mass trespass.

On both occasions it was our volunteers who supplied the much needed workforce to make the events complete successes. They were car park attendants, stall holders and walk leaders. Karen Jennings and Dennis Moffat made sure all the volunteers were fed and watered, other volunteers like Rob Ball ensured all equipment was accounted for and some cleaned and packed everything up afterwards.

We will be repeating both of these events on a larger scale and holding various new events in the future based on this initial success, so watch this space.

The event volunteers will also be vital during the tree planting season when we will need to organise the planting of 21,000 trees in March and April 2018 alone.

There will also be dozens of smaller activities, such as Nature Detectives and public guided walks led by Smithills volunteers. Volunteers like Keith and Pam Williams have been great at running several of these events in collaboration with the council-owned Smithills Hall (plus Pam always bakes excellent cakes for everyone!).

As part of the HLF project there will be training for the event volunteers in public speaking and orienteering skills to ensure all are completely comfortable in the role.

Species monitoring volunteers

A big part of the Smithills project is the monitoring and restoration of local biodiversity. But when looking after a 1,700 acre estate with only two and a half members of staff, checking what animals and plants live here is a tall order.

That’s where our volunteer species monitoring team comes in. From 2015 onwards, we’ve been running wildlife workshops in partnership with the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit to train our volunteers on wildlife identification and surveying skills. Today we have a Species Monitoring Group set up, with over 20 volunteers dedicated to recording the wildlife across Smithills.

This group is led by Stuart Fraser who runs wildlife work-parties throughout the year, looking at recording everything from owls to centipedes. As well as the walks we also have a volunteer dedicated to our trail cams. Chris Mather has captured video and images which helped confirm the presence of badgers (Meles meles) and stoats (Mustela erminea) at Smithills.

With their help it will be easier to track the positive changes our management brings to the 950 species currently living here. They may also be the first people to notice when new species arrive or return to Smithills. Animals we’re on the lookout for include the water vole (Arvicola amphibius), brown hare (Lepus europaeus) and hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus).

In 2015 we had 3 volunteers, now the group has nearly 100 members (Photo: WTML)
In 2015 we had 3 volunteers, now the group has nearly 100 members (Photo: WTML)

New volunteers

With such a huge project we are always on the lookout for new passionate members of the Smithills Supporters Group. So if you like the sound of what we do, you can find out more and even sign up today by clicking the link below.

We are incredibly grateful to all our volunteers who have given their time and effort to this project so far. Many are local Boltonians but some travel from across Greater Manchester.

Without them we couldn’t have got to where we are today and I am sure this is also true of the many other Woodland Trust sites throughout the country. So, on behalf of all of us that rely on you, a huge THANK YOU to all our volunteers. Have a Merry Christmas and see you in the New Year!

Help us do even more great work at Smithills

Get involved

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