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30 Apr 2021

Brilliant volunteers at Threave

Written by David Thompson, Estate Manager, Dumfries & Galloway
A group of 5 men and women stand or kneel in a grassy field, with a drystone wall running behind them. The lady in the middle is holding a large camera.
Front row: Alistair and Lyn (Estate Volunteers); back row: Norman (Community Payback), Sarina and Margaret (Estate Volunteers)
Volunteers are an integral part of the team at Threave. They bring with them passion, knowledge and experience to make our jobs much easier – many hands make light work.

During my time with our charity, I’ve been very fortunate to work with many volunteers. Not only are they great to work with, but I’ve made some long-lasting friendships and I keep in touch with those who have since moved on.

I’ve met people from all around the world, from lots of different walks of life, including a retired livestock market procurement worker, police officers, firefighters, office workers, social workers, forestry students, support groups, school groups, psychiatric nurses, ex-army, retirees and many others.

Joanna, one of our Estate Volunteers, says, ‘I lived in the United States for 17 years and was a university lecturer in English and professional writing. My first love has always been nature and the environment, and I am now doing a Master’s degree in wildlife and conservation management. Volunteering for the Trust is a great way to give back, by helping on the beautiful Threave Estate. It is also a fantastic way of continuing my learning journey, working with the Estate Manager.’

Joanna adds: ‘The Estate Manager is a font of knowledge and helps me learn useful skills like winter tree ID, bird ID, etc, and practical skills. In time, with the right training, I hope to become knowledgeable enough to volunteer to pass these skills along to others who share this love of nature.’

We have so many people with bags of experience and knowledge, all of which we can tap into, so we can learn from each other for the benefit of our common cause. This diversity is a great recipe for achieving good things. I have learned so much over the years, heard some great stories and had some fantastic laughs along the way. I really look forward to the days when the volunteers are out helping me on Threave Estate and our other Dumfries & Galloway properties. We take great pride in what we do, and look back at our achievements daily; we’re leaving a long-lasting legacy for all to enjoy.

There is a wide variety of tasks to do, including path maintenance, tree work, practical habitat management, surveying, tree planting, dry stone walling, countryside woodwork, fencing and much more. All of these tasks are very important, no matter how big or small, and without the help of volunteers it would be much more difficult. A lot of our work is quite physical – combined with the benefits of working outside, it’s good for your personal wellbeing as well (I include myself in this).

All our volunteers are trusted, valued and considered part of the team. Some of them have been regulars for a few years. Over time, they build up a good skills base, and this is really useful when we have a lot to do on a specific day, as we can split up and crack on. However, when possible, we like to work as a group.

Alistair, a long-term Estate Volunteer, says: ‘Volunteering is great for the social aspect of things – working with staff and fellow volunteers and meeting different people. I spend some of my free time at Threave, walking around the estate paths, some of which I have helped to create and maintain.’

“I have a real interest in the natural environment, so volunteering at Threave is the perfect opportunity for me to get out among it all, and I love being in a position to give something back.”
Estate Volunteer at Threave
A smiling man stands in a woodland area, holding a large spade. In his other hand he is holding a small pine sapling.

Last year I was approached by Norman, who is the supervisor for a local group of Community Payback service users, to see if we could accommodate them at Threave. I jumped at the opportunity. I thought it would be a very rewarding thing to do, and my line manager agreed. After some discussions, we came up with an arrangement of working together as a group, doing all the jobs listed above. We hope to have one or two service users joining us on placement, for two or three days a week.

Norman says, ‘The service users look forward to coming to Threave. They are learning about their natural surroundings and team work, as well as taking an interest in the different variety of tasks we undertake. They feel valued, included and not judged. I feel like we have only just touched the surface of what we can do together.’

A man stands in a field holding a wooden squirrel feeder box in one hand and a wooden nest box in the other. He is wearing a bright red jumper and has his glasses on top of his head.
Norman with a squirrel feeder and bird box that the service users have constructed – these will be put to good use on the estate.

Volunteers bring so much passion. We have such a good mix of brilliant volunteers throughout the property including garden volunteers, house volunteers, flower arrangers and osprey volunteers, not forgetting all the other brilliant volunteers working with the Trust at other properties.

Sarina, volunteer photographer/Estate Volunteer, says, ‘Before becoming a volunteer, I regularly visited Threave. I felt welcomed by the warm, friendly and approachable staff, so that’s one of the reasons I decided to volunteer, as well as my love of nature. I want to give something back.’

“I love what I do, especially helping with the red squirrel monitoring. It’s also a great opportunity to take pictures and share them.”
Estate Volunteer at Threave
A lady stands in a grassy field holding a large-lens camera. The camera is wrapped in a camouflage layer.

We look forward to welcoming the South and West Conservation Volunteer Group to help with various projects on the estate. It’s great to meet up with old friends and meet new ones, so I’m really looking forward to this.

If you don’t already volunteer, I seriously recommend you try it!

Two woman and a man stand beneath a tall tree, which has two nest boxes attached to its trunk. A ladder leans against the fence in front of the tree.
Lyn, Alistair and Margaret after helping to erect some tree sparrow nest boxes

If you’re interested in volunteering with us or finding out more, please contact me on

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