Improving the effectiveness of volunteering

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The secondary objective of my blog is to work out “… what we can do through the organisations that we work for, the charities that we support, and the groups we belong to. …”

Wednesday 5th December was apparently International Volunteer Day (UN, 2018). I am currently volunteering for five different organisations, mostly charities, all of which work for a number of other organisations, and yet International Volunteer Day passed me by. During that week, in a voluntary capacity: I chopped down and burnt gorse bushes; I advised on project management; I did administration associated with project delivery; and I helped develop a marketing campaign.

In hindsight, cutting and burning gorse bushes felt like it had the greatest impact. A group of volunteers cleared a large area of heath creating habitat for ground nesting birds, butterflies and reptiles. We saved the charity the costs of employing contractors and we did the work more sensitively than would have been the case with machinery. I recognise that contractors would have cleared the area much faster, and having volunteers doing the same work as the charity’s paid staff could be seen as de-valuing the work of those staff.

During that week I also witnessed a charity cancelling a volunteer work party because they were unable to find suitable work for the volunteers, and I saw the impact of a professional mentoring event weakened by charities dropping out at short notice. I have been inspired to finish this post by three instances, in the first weeks of 2019, of local authorities de-motivating their volunteers. This is not good enough – organisations that use volunteers must treat them better.

I have managed volunteers in the past and arguably I am managing them in two of my current roles. I recognise that it can be frustrating to manage volunteers, particularly when it does not appear to be part of your day to day job. However, volunteers can help you deliver more, they can bring freshness and fun to your work, and they will help you change your perspective.

As I researched this post, I was asked two questions: is there a difference between volunteering and working for free; and is there a difference when volunteers are providing their professional skills (i.e. skills they that they would normally be paid to provide)?

Volunteering is defined as doing something, unpaid, that benefits other people, groups or the environment, where the volunteer is not closely related to the recipients (NCVO, 2018). This feels like working for free, but ultimately the volunteer is in control. They will decide what they do and don’t want to do, and they are expecting to get something back. Volunteers are likely to be motivated by the desire to give something back, companionship, exercise, fresh air, etc. Hence, my conclusion is that there isn’t really a difference between volunteering and working for free, the volunteer is just looking to be rewarded in a non-financial way.

One implication of this is that organisations using volunteers need to be extra careful not to annoy their volunteers. It is much easier for a badly managed volunteer to walk away, than a badly managed employee. I have been trying to volunteer for three different organisations recently where I am repeatedly chasing staff for the information that I need to perform my agreed voluntary role. There is a danger that these organisations are not just missing out on potential volunteer’s skills and capacity, they may lose other forms of support. I am a member of one of these organisations and my experience has made me reconsider renewing my annual subscription. Worse still, some grants are only available to organisations that can demonstrate that they use volunteers effectively.

Most of the people that I volunteer with are retired, or semi-retired, professionals. I work regularly with an accountant, a lawyer, a senior HR person, a marketer, a pharmacist, project managers, and several IT experts. The majority of these people are not using their professional skills in their voluntary roles. Those that are still in employment are comfortable to have a clear divide between their work and their volunteering. However, if the conditions were right, I am increasingly convinced that most of us would be prepared to volunteer our professional skills. I am working with one organisation where the volunteers are doing exactly that, and collaborative-working tools are being used to harness these skills, and deliver projects, wherever the volunteers are located.

Working with that organisation has helped me realise just how many other organisations there are that are trying to get us to volunteer our professional skills. It feels like the time is ripe for some rationalisation of these organisations.

If you are volunteering, remember that you are in control. If you are not happy with the role that you are being asked to do then discuss it with whoever is managing you. If they are not able to help, then vote with your feet. Challenge yourself to get a greater return on the investment that you are making with your time. Some of the most effective volunteers that I am working with are developing their skills, constructively challenging working practices, and learning about the impact of the work that they are doing.

If you are considering volunteering, then test out the organisations that you are considering volunteering for. If they don’t respond to your queries in a timely and helpful manner then consider volunteering for someone else. Make sure that you are clear why you want to volunteer and what you are expecting to get out of it (this might help – https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=201).  Organisations that are good at working with volunteers will offer some form of induction and will help you achieve the aims that you set for your volunteering.

If you are using volunteers, or thinking about it, then make sure that you have the processes in place to attract, manage and retain them. Encourage your staff to adapt what they do, and how they work, to accommodate and get the most out of the volunteers. Make sure that the contributions of volunteers are recognised, and that staff are rewarded for working well with volunteers. You can find more guidance at www.ncvo.org.uk.

I’d also like to see organisations getting better at sharing volunteers, and the equipment and other resources that they need. I am familiar with some of the barriers to making this happen such as insurance, lack of management skills, and accessibility. However, I am convinced that these barriers can be overcome as demonstrated by the success of initiatives like Back from the Brink (https://naturebftb.co.uk/).

This post develops some of the ideas that I wrote about in Conservation Volunteering . I am more convinced than ever that volunteers will play a key role in saving the nature that I love, but that organisations that use volunteers need to use those volunteers more effectively. I am happy to discuss the ideas in this post and help out organisations that are struggling to use volunteers to deliver nature conservation effectively.

 

References

NCVO, 2018. Volunteering. [Online] Available at: https://www.ncvo.org.uk/ncvo-volunteering [Accessed 11th January 2019].

UN, 2018. International Volunteer Day. [Online] Available at: http://www.un.org/en/events/volunteerday/ [Accessed 11th January 2019].

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Thank you (yes YOU!)

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This post is to thank all the people that have helped me during 2018 as I started to work out how I can increase the impact I have for nature. Although, I am writing this blog for my own benefit, to help get my thoughts in order and to record some of the things that I learn along the way, it would not have been possible without the help of a lot of people.

Thank you to everyone who reads my posts, whether regularly or occasionally. Some of you have encouraged me to keep writing. Some of you have contributed ideas, or even the occasional quote. Some of you have corrected my mistakes. And, some of you have constructively challenged my thinking. Thank you all.

A couple of people have even told me that my posts have helped them deal with some of their own challenges. Thank you.

My blog has also proved to be a useful way of keeping in touch with some of my friends and even to make a couple of new ones. Thank you.

I recognise how fortunate I am to be able to do what I am doing with my life, and how for some of my readers being able to do something similar seems an impossibly long way away. So, thanks to those people who have given me the time, space and resources to do what I am doing.

The last year has also made me realise the amazing breadth of things that my friends are up to and has helped me recognise that I am not alone on my little quest. Despite the political uncertainties surrounding us all, I finished 2018 more optimistic than I started it. I also finished the year humbled by what some of you are up to.

I have also been encouraged by a lot of the things that I have seen this year that show how we can all make a difference no matter our circumstances. These range from individuals leading successful campaigns to hold our governments to account, to surprisingly small teams playing key roles in increasing the populations of certain endangered birds, butterflies, reptiles and insects.

If we each make a difference and encourage others around us to do the same then we can deliver what successive governments have only promised – a greener world for future generations. This short video conveys this message better than I ever could – https://vimeo.com/214288898

Can I influence those in power?

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I have written before that donating is rarely the most effective way that I can have an impact (Donating to Nature Conservation). In this post, I ponder whether trying to influence my MP is actually a better use of my time.

Over the past few years I have written to my local MP about a dozen times, mostly about conservation campaigns. I have even offered my time to help him understand an issue better. I almost always get a response, and almost always it is the standard party line. This is disappointing because my MP’s background means that he knows a bit more about nature conservation than most of his peers. He almost certainly knows enough to be able to see the errors in the responses that someone at party headquarters has put together. My follow-up letters and emails pointing out these errors don’t get a response.

Recently I wrote to him about the People’s Manifesto for Nature (www.chrispackham.co.uk/a-peoples-manifesto-for-wildlife). This time I received a response saying that due to the volume of campaigns, he had adopted a new system and that a response would be posted on his website. After checking for about a month, a response was posted on his website closely matching the standard party response. This was even more disappointing as I had asked specific questions that went unanswered. I could write again and re-ask the specific questions, but I am not hopeful of getting an answer. This new approach to dealing with the concerns of his constituents seems to be of even less benefit to the people that my MP has a duty to serve.

Complaining about our political representatives appears to be an increasingly popular past-time. However, one of the things that I am trying to do with this blog is be more positive and constructive. I can see a number of possible ways of getting my MP’s support: threaten to un-elect him; join in a national campaign; create a local campaign; or focus on making sure that he does his duty.

My MP has one of the largest majorities in the conservative party and shows no sign of losing his popularity locally, so I will not pursue my first option.

About a decade ago there was a view that charities with large memberships could have an influence on politicians. An organisation like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, with more than a million, had more members than all three main political parties put together, and could mobilise a significant proportion of that membership to write letters or phone their MPs. The rise of social media, and the response of governments to it, is one of the factors that seems to have reduced the power of charities to campaign in this way. MPs are still influenced by the number of people contacting them about a particular issue, but social media has made it so much easier for anyone to set up a campaign, so MPs can struggle to work out which campaigns to give any attention to.

One way round this is for charities to work together to get their members contacting their MPs. One example of this is conservation charities trying to make sure that the post-Brexit nature protection laws are at least as effective as the current one, for example – https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/campaigning/let-nature-sing-pledge/. One of the first steps in the UK government’s new 25 year environment plan is the creation of an environment bill, which will give a new set of campaigning opportunities.

Big charities are also victims of their own success. An organisation that relies on a large membership, such as The National Trust, has members with all kinds of political leanings and personal beliefs. Hence, running any campaign, which seems remotely political, risks disenfranchising large numbers of members. So the campaigns that they run tend to lack meaningful impact.

One way to get an MP’s attention is to do something that has visibility in their constituency. Turning up at their constituency surgeries is one option. Another option is to invite them to an event that gives them a chance to get some positive publicity, such as planting trees. There is a danger that a nature conservation campaign has less local public support and hence less appeal to an MP than a local campaign related to children, pets, or even the homeless (at Christmas).

Species Champion initiatives in Westminster and in the Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish parliaments have been a success. MPs, and their equivalents, are paired with an endangered species that occurs in their constituency and helped to learn about that species and to raise its profile in parliament. You can find more information here – https://www.buglife.org.uk/specieschampions.

One of the things that defines the role of MPs, and I suspect all elected representatives, is a set of duties, such as the duty to represent their constituents in parliament. In some legislatures elected representatives have a duty to improve the economic well-being of their constituents. Given the health and mental well-being benefits of nature, it would seem to make sense for elected representatives to have a duty to enhance the nature in their constituency, which is what this e-petition is about –https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/229047.

While I have been writing this, I have seen a story about Californian crab fisherman taking oil companies to court to get compensation for the impact of global warming on their fishery, and an appeal to pay the legal costs of a campaign to stop a road development that does not appear to have gone through a proper environmental impact assessment. One way forward is to donate to campaigns to pay for the lawyers to make our elected representatives do the things that they should be doing anyway.

Perhaps this is why “active resistance” is being seen by some as the only option. Extinction Rebellion (https://rebellion.earth/) have been conducting protests in central London recently. The three basic demands of this organisation seem perfectly reasonable: for government to communicate honestly about climate change and other ecological issues and to fix policy inconsistencies; for government to enact legally-binding policies to reduce UK carbon emissions to net-zero by 2025; and for the establishment of a citizen’s assembly to oversee these changes. It is a huge pity that our elected representatives have not been willing or able to make the first two of these happen.

So, I will: be more selective about the national campaigns that I support, favouring those where charities are working together; be more active in relevant local campaigns, especially where there is an opportunity to engage my MP; and engage with a small number of campaigns that change the dynamic between MPs and their constituents with respect to nature conservation.

Postscript – The picture at the top of this post shows one of my MP’s constituents (a brown argus butterfly) benefiting from a local project (the creation of a new park), which in turn resulted from changes to national policy.

Hedgehogs and hen harriers

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I have been thinking a lot about hedgehogs and hen harriers lately. Most of us are familiar with hedgehogs from children’s books and television nature programs. Some of us are fortunate enough to see them in our gardens. Fewer of us are familiar with the hen harrier, one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey, notable for the stark difference in the appearance of male and female and for their spectacular courtship flight which gives them their nickname – skydancer.

As well as being amazing native wildlife, hedgehogs and hen harriers have other similarities. They have been misnamed, are threatened with extinction in England and Wales, and in both cases, conservationists have a pretty good idea what the problem is but seem powerless to do anything about it.

The hedgehog isn’t really a hog although it does like hedges, and the hen harrier doesn’t harry hens although it will eat their chicks. Our native hedgehog, the European hedgehog, is one of seventeen species of spiny mammals found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The European hedgehog is more closely related to the common shrew than to the porcupine. The hen harrier is one of a number of species of birds of prey that live on small prey such as mice and voles, and are characterised by their low, slow hunting flight.

Hedgehogs used to be a common sight across the UK, but their numbers have declined from around 30 million in the 1970s to about 1.5 million today. They are now scarce in parts of the country where they used to be common and there is a very real fear that they could go extinct in England and Wales within the next 50 years. There are some studies showing hedgehog populations holding steady in certain urban and semi-urban areas, which suggests that our parks and gardens are becoming increasingly important to them.

Hen harriers are struggling to maintain a population in England despite there being suitable habitat for up to 300 pairs. This year has been good for hen harriers because of a combination of dry weather and healthy populations of voles when nesting hen harriers were feeding their young. However, there were only a handful of successful nesting attempts, and since the summer many of this year’s young have disappeared in suspicious circumstances (https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2018/11/12/satellite-tagged-hen-harrier-arthur-disappears-near-grouse-moor-in-north-york-moors-national-park/)

The hen harrier, despite being protected by law, is one of a number of birds of prey that are illegally persecuted because they interfere with a rich man’s hobby – driven grouse shooting. Our legal system is poorly equipped to deal with this crime because it is hard to prove that a particular individual killed a particular bird. The Westminster government seems unwilling to act, partly because of misinformation provided by powerful supporters of driven grouse shooting.

The hedgehog is a victim of changing land-use and our penchant for tidiness. The destruction of traditional field boundaries to create larger fields has removed foraging habitat and navigation routes for the short-sighted hedgehog. Monoculture farms, and the spraying of pesticides, have reduced the availability of their favourite foods – the hedgehog’s diet includes beetles, slugs, caterpillars, millipedes and earwigs. As a result, in some areas our gardens seem to have become their stronghold. But even in our gardens, our desire for neatness deprives them of safe foraging and passage, and our use of slug pellets kills their prey and poisons hedgehogs.

The public’s attitude to both species seems oddly schizophrenic. Hundreds of people campaigned to stop hedgehogs being removed from Hebridean islands where their introduction was threatening populations of ground-nesting birds, and yet we seem unwilling to make the small changes to our gardens that would help hedgehogs. The hen harrier is the symbol for one of England’s areas of outstanding natural beauty, has a beer named after it, and even made a brief appearance as a bath bomb, and yet we turn a blind eye to its continued illegal persecution.

In the last couple of months, I have signed e-petitions, donated to campaigns, written to my MP, written articles, worked with my parish and borough councils, put out food and water, and marched on Downing Street in an attempt to reverse the declines of these and other native species.

I am getting a clearer idea of what I can do for hedgehogs. I will support local initiatives, such as Bracknell Forest’s contribution to the Hedgehog Street initiative (https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/). I will encourage more local people to do their bit, whilst making sure that those that are particularly interested support the Big Hedgehog Map (https://bighedgehogmap.org/).

I am not yet clear about what I can do that will have the most positive impact on hen harriers, although supporting the brand new charity Revive (http://www.revive.scot/) looks like a good start. One of the things that we can all do is make hunting for pleasure as socially unacceptable as driving without a seatbelt or smoking in a public place. I have a couple of friends who hunt and my view is that as long as they are hunting legally and doing it to provide food for their family and friends, or to protect their livestock, then it’s ok. Maybe, even they should have to prove that they are fit to carry a firearm and have a legitimate purpose. In other words, hunting instead of being a right, becomes a licensed activity.

What Should I Do With My Time 3

That Venn Diagram

Previously, I speculated that my posts have largely been exploring the nature I love, the skills I have, and the ways that I can maximise my impact (WSIDWMT2). In this post I look at what happens when I overlap these three sets.

If you fancy doing your own version of this exercise, then James Sancto provides a more generic version of my three sets suggesting that we should all try and understand: the cause(s) that drives us; the skills that define us; and the purpose that fulfils us (Sancto, 2018). James is the Chief Executive and co-founder of We Make Change (www.wemakechange.org) a charity that has been established to address the issue that skill-rich, financially-poor young people want to give their time to the causes they believe in but struggle to find the right organisation to support and even if they can find them, they don’t want to support them simply by sending money.

I have used previous posts to look at the nature that I love. Firstly I looked at some of the birds that I loved (TNITL) and concluded that the common link is what the bird symbolises, which seemed to be a personal thing linked to my memories. I also noted that the species that I had chosen all had things that you and I can do to have a positive impact on the populations of these species.

Then I looked at some of the places that I love (TNTIL2). I recognised that I seem to love “edges”, places where land and sea, or land and sky meet. These were all places that reflect what I have been programmed to think of as natural, probably because they are the type of places that I visited when I was young. This made me ponder whether I could truly love places that I have never been.

Finally, I looked at the nature and green spaces closer to home (TNITL3). I have lived in the same village for almost twenty-five years and am growing to love it more and more. Again this may reflect the fact that I can associate creatures and places with memories from those twenty-five years. This post helped me realise that I might be able to increase my impact close to home.

In mapping the things that I care about, the ways that I can make a difference, and the skills that I have to a Venn diagram, I have taken the contents of the first two sets from earlier posts in this blog and the contents of the third set from my CV and LinkedIn profile. Deciding what to put in the intersections was more subjective, and I suspect that I will continue to tweak this diagram over time.

My aim is to focus more of my effort on the things that fit in at least two sets, and ideally all three. I recognize that this diagram only covers some of the roles that I perform (WSIDWMT). For example, it neglects the roles of parent, partner and home-owner. However, I am trying to dedicate 3-4 days a week to the things on this diagram.

Producing the diagram has been a useful exercise. It has helped me get a bit of perspective on two projects that have been taking up more of my time than I felt they warranted – it turns out that they both sit at the intersection of two or more sets, and hence are probably appropriate uses of my time. It has also helped me realize that a project that I have not got round to starting is probably not the right thing for me to be doing, but I might be able to combine it with another project and have something that fits in an intersection.

It has also helped me think about the specific skills that I have. It’s a lot of fun to learn new skills, but that may not be the best way to make a difference. I could do more to apply some of my business skills to the things I care about. For example, I am already working on one partnership project, and have the opportunity to take on another one or two that could result in conservation organizations delivering more in partnership than they can do on their own.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this post and preparing and tweaking the Venn diagram, only to find that most of what I’m doing fits with what I am trying to achieve. I suspect that this approach would have been most useful when I was just starting out. Perhaps I should spend less time thinking and more time doing. Or maybe I should heed Richard Branson’s advice to make time for being, which is perhaps where my walking fits in (Branson, 2017). Thinking about this helped me realize that I need to find more time for reading, ideally reading that fits at the intersection of multiple sets.

References

Branson, R., 2017. How to be happy. [Online]
Available at: https://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/how-be-happy
[Accessed 29 June 2018].

Sancto, J., 2018. The World’s Greatest Generation or the Last?. [Online]
Available at: https://medium.com/@james.sancto/the-worlds-greatest-generation-or-the-last-f92b6bc46612
[Accessed 09 September 2018]

A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square

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On a cold wet Saturday in September 2018, a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square. Well almost. Nightingales were heard in Piccadilly, which is close to Berkeley Square. They were also heard in St James Street, Pall Mall, Trafalgar Square, and Whitehall. I walked these streets in the company of more than 10,000 others, with the sound of an English woodland in spring drowning out the noise of the traffic, the shoppers, and the tourists.

Some of my fellow walkers carried banners, some wore fancy dress (I was accompanied by a badger, a fish and a butterfly for most of the march), and some carried elaborate models of bats, midges, beetles and owls. We chatted to strangers, we explained to passers-by what the march was about, and we were smiled and waved at by bus drivers, tourists, security guards and police.

I was part of The People’s Walk for Wildlife, an event organised by naturalist, Chris Packham to raise awareness of the nature that we have lost from our countryside in the last 50 years. The walk started with speeches and songs in Hyde Park. Writers, campaigners, musicians and young people joined Chris on stage to talk about the manifesto for nature that had been developed alongside the walk (manifesto). One of the most emotional moments was a teenage girl, Bella Lack, talking passionately about the once common nature that she had only seen on television.  Musician and campaigner Billy Bragg even accompanied Chris Packham as Chris sang a re-worked version of one of Billy’s songs – Between the Wars.  I’m not sure that The Turtle Dove’s Lament will be challenging for the number 1 spot, but you can check the lyrics out here.

More speeches were made outside Downing Street punctuated by the recorded booming of a bittern and the screeches of real parakeets as a real peregrine falcon flew by. As a small group made their way to 10 Downing Street to hand in a petition, the damp, but happy marchers returned home.

Had we made a difference? The march generated on-line and traditional media coverage. On the day, we shared our messages with members of the public. Many of us learnt new things about the nature-related campaigns of others. A manifesto with 200 recommendations for change has been created and shared with politicians. A petition was handed in to Downing Street. However, it felt to me that the real value may come from the creation of a community with a sense of unity. The marchers were young and old, from all over Britain (and beyond). RSPB group members walked alongside sun-tanned marine campaigners, nature writers walked with scout leaders, people worried about palm oil and orangutans walked with people concerned about the damage done by domestic cats, and (nature friendly) farmers walked alongside opponents of the badger cull.

In my quest to work out how I can have a greater impact for the nature that I love I wasn’t sure what role campaigning played. I believe that my role is to support the organisations that campaign most effectively on the things that are most important to me. I also believe that the most effective way of campaigning on a particular issue is continually evolving, which in turn might imply that I need to change which campaigning organisations I support over time. I am involved in a couple of projects where charities are working together in ways that they have found difficult in the past. The People’s Walk for Wildlife felt like another example of organisations and individuals coming together to achieve something different and beautiful. I left London with a number of specific campaigning actions, but more importantly with a renewed sense of hope that the actions of individuals and organisations can add up to something meaningful.

25 Years On #1

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I love the UK’s nature and especially its birds. Twenty-five years ago, I walked the 600 miles of the South-west Coast Path from Minehead to Poole Harbour in a six week period. This is a shortened version of a piece I have just written for the South West Coast Path Association (SWCPA) about some of the differences between the nature that I saw in 1993 and what a coast path walker might see today.

The SWCPA is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the opening of the path (40-for-40), and are trying to raise £40,000 to help with the maintenance and marketing of the path.

In 1993, I walked the path in spring. I recorded 71 bird species during my six weeks, but there are several omissions from the list of birds that were common enough in the south-west in late spring, that I almost certainly saw but did not record.

My list includes four different birds of prey – buzzard, peregrine, kestrel and sparrowhawk. In 1993, buzzard and peregrine populations were still recovering from persecution and the unintended consequences of pesticide usage earlier in the twentieth century. In the last 25 years buzzards have become a much more common site throughout England and Wales. Peregrine numbers have also increased and they have done particularly well in our cities where they have adopted man-made cliffs for their nests. Sparrowhawk numbers have been relatively constant over the last 25 years, but kestrel numbers have declined, possibly as a result of a decline in the numbers of small rodents, which in turn is probably associated with changing land use.

One bird of prey that I didn’t see 25 years ago was the osprey. A scheme has just begun to encourage ospreys to nest in Poole Harbour, which was the end point for my walk. The aim is to establish a third English population, after Rutland Water and the Lake District, of these magnificent fish-eating birds.

One of my favourite birds does not appear in my records from 1993, but will have been present back then. The raven is a member of the crow family, and numbers have also increased in the last 25 years as the population recovers from the same threats that faced buzzards and peregrines.

My journal also notes that I saw kittiwakes just after Lands End. This pretty member of the gull family, with its distinctive onomatopoeic call is not doing well. Declining numbers of small fish near the surface of the sea as a result of over-fishing and changes in ocean currents around the UK are almost certainly causing the population to decline. The biggest declines have been in colonies in the north-east of England and the east of Scotland.

I didn’t see another onomatopoeic bird in 1993, but would have a good chance of seeing it in 2018. This bird is a symbol of Cornwall, but was absent from the county for many years, before coming back naturally in 2001. The chough has returned as a result of cliff-top habitat creation and birds from Ireland, Wales and even Brittany seeking out new territories.

Another bird that I didn’t record seeing in 1993 was the cirl bunting. These sparrow-like birds were found across southern England, but changes in farming practices led to their numbers declining until they were only found on coastal farmland between Plymouth and Exeter. The RSPB has been working with Natural England and farmers in this area since the late 1980s and as a result the population has increased tenfold. Cirl buntings have also been reintroduced into southern Cornwall.

There are several species on my 1993 list whose numbers have declined in the last 25 years. For example, the puffin and the black-tailed godwit are species in decline which are now the focus of UK-wide conservation projects.

My walk finished at Poole Harbour, where there are avocets and spoonbills that were not there in 1993, and larger numbers of little egrets that were just starting to establish themselves twenty-five years ago.

Grey seals are a fairly frequent sight from the path, and my journal says that I saw them along the Devon and Cornwall coasts. As I rounded Lands End I also saw a pod of 20-30 bottle-nosed dolphins. Cetacean numbers around our shores seem to be holding steady, but our understanding of them and the opportunities to see them have increased.

In my journal I note that I saw deer, foxes, seals, rabbits, voles and shrews. Like with the birds, I suspect that I saw other mammals that I did not record.

In my journal, I didn’t say anything about insects. I am currently trying to get better at identifying dragonflies and butterflies, so a journal written in 2018 would say more about these. A path round the Isle of Portland has been added to the route since 1993, and the old quarries on the island are great places to see butterflies.

Since 1993, the nature visible from the path has changed. Twenty five years later, nature is just as important a part of the coast path experience, and unlike in other parts of the country there seems to be just as much of it, although the mix of species has changed. The fact that some species of birds, insects, mammals and marine-life are doing well in the south-west is in part down to the hard work of many dedicated people and organisations. There are many exciting projects underway, and many threats to existing species, that will lead to the mix of species changing again over the next twenty-five years.

One way to ensure that more people can enjoy the nature of the South-west coast is to support the SWCPA (40-for-40).