It’s early June and a bright sunny day in Cardiff Bay. There’s a gentle breeze, clear blue sky; it’s the kind of weather where I’ll stare out of the office window and count the hours and minutes till lunchtime when I can go across to the wetlands and look out for swallows, swifts and reed bunting. Perhaps catch a glimpse of one of the warblers as it pops up from the reeds, or a blue damselfly flitting around the edge of the pool.
Today is different however. I’m out of the office enjoying the sun, but I’m not heading to the wetlands. Instead I’m walking down the street towards the National Assembly’s Senedd building, and I can feel the power of the sun beating down on the black t-shirt I’m wearing. The t-shirt and nametag, both bearing a familiar picture of a badger, make me feel a little conspicuous, but at the same time immensely proud. I reach the slate plateau that the Senedd rests upon and climb the steps, looking up at the pure-glass frontage and into the open space beyond it I can see the characteristic giant wooden funnel, extending floor to ceiling. My focus shifts to the group of people gathered on the other side of the glass. Many of them are also badger-clad. Looks like I’m in the right place.
I’m something of a newcomer to the Wildlife Trusts’ volunteer-force, having only been involved since February, so there are lots of new faces for me to process. They belong to staff and volunteers from each of the 6 Wildlife Trusts in Wales. It doesn’t take me long to spot my compatriots from WTSWW though. Ellie, an Ecology student at Cardiff Uni who’s doing her placement year with the Trust, is based at Parc Slip like me and she’s also sporting the same badger t-shirt. Lizzie, Conservation Manager with the Trust and Sarah, our CEO, are looking more refined in business attire but greet me warmly, something that seems to come so naturally to everyone I’ve encountered who works for WTSWW.
A buzz starts to develop as everyone gets chatting and more people arrive. I meet Abi who works in education for Montgomeryshire, Veronica Chair of Brecknock, and soon it seems like we have a full compliment so the event kicks off. First up we’re off for a tour of the Senedd. We learn that many of the materials used to build it are Welsh including slate for the floor and oak for the debating chamber; although the waves of wood that roll across the ceiling to the overhang are Canadian – western red cedar is apparently made of stern enough stuff to stand up to a regular battering from the Cardiff Bay elements. The building also has some impressive environmental credentials: rainwater recycling, a biomass boiler, natural ‘air-conditioning’ through clever ventilation and a heating system powered by geothermal energy (not “hot air from the debating chamber” as one of our number eagerly suggests).
We go into the gallery above the chamber and discover a bit about the political action that takes place in the arena below. Then it’s up to the Oriel (Welsh for ‘gallery’) where we have a superb view over Cardiff Bay and another chance to chat amongst ourselves. I meet more volunteers, trustees and CEOs (John and Lynda from WTSWW and Tom, who runs the Gwent Trust) and some special guests. Dr. Rhys Jones of BBC TV fame is there and Vaughn Gething, AM for Cardiff South and Penarth, who sponsors the event. Rachel Sharp, CEO of Wildlife Trusts Wales the umbrella organisation who’s put together today’s event, welcomes us all and sets the scene for why we’re here.
Rachel tells us that it’s National Volunteers’ Week, and the Wildlife Trusts in Wales want to mark the occasion by celebrating the work of the 2,000+ volunteers that are involved across the country. She says that the Wildlife Trusts are incredibly grateful for the time and energy that volunteers like me devote, and that they could not do the important work they do without us. Dr. Rhys also gives a passionate speech, thanking volunteers and again saying that our contribution is incredibly important and valued. Vaughn Gething also speaks and echos these sentiments. It’s powerful stuff, but I can’t help feeling a bit of a fraud.
My mind wanders off to Parc Slip for a second or two: I’m watching lapwing chicks from the Northern Wetlands hide with Rob and Vaughn (Conservation Manager and Officer); taking photos for Rose on the first ‘Reptile Ramble’ from the new visitor centre introducing kids and their parents to grass snakes, adders and slow worm; I’m fighting with bramble to check willow tit nest boxes alongside fellow volunteers Beth and Ellie, finding otter tracks and spraint right in front of the camera trap and pulling up as much balsam as we can.
“You don’t need to thank me for doing all that,” I think to myself. “Volunteering is fun. Everyone’s so friendly, Tondu is like a second home, and the wildlife experiences are second to none. Where else could I watch a pair of jays fly in and perch in a tree in front of me while washing up my tea mug?”
But the message is loud and clear. Although I am having great fun by volunteering with the Trust and learning loads to help me with my career change into ecology and conservation, the time and energy I put in really is valued. I’m beaming from ear to ear. By the time I realise I have to go up and accept a plaque on behalf of all our volunteers I’m so swept up in the energy of the event I don’t even mind posing for the photo.
I know it was an event to thank us, as volunteers, for our contribution. But let me return the favour, Wildlife Trusts. Thank You.