One of the fastest growing sectors of the travel industry, a quick Google search for voluntourism brings up more than 180,000 results, with options including everything from helping out at an African orphanage to a break spent monitoring orangutan numbers in Borneo. And this sort of trip is no longer just for the gap year brigade either. According to a recent survey by travel website, Cheap Tickets, a whopping 55 per cent of respondents said that they would consider giving up a day or two of their holiday to volunteer. In the UK, say voluntourism specialists, Grown Up Gap Year, more than 100,000 people per year choose to use their time off to make a difference.
While the overwhelming majority of voluntourism programmes are located overseas, there are plenty of options for those who want to help out at home, many of which are focused on conservation. ‘Volunteering in the UK gives you the chance to give back to the environment and to put money back into an organisation that looks after important green spaces,’ said a BTCV [British Trust of Conservation Volunteers] spokesman. ‘The work we undertake is not getting done by local authorities, because they simply haven’t got the budget.’ Whether you fancy getting involved with butterfly protection programmes or just want to raise money for charity or learn a little more about sustainability, we've got the volunteering trip to suit you.
Beach clearance in Devon
Declutter Devon’s beautiful beaches with the BCTV and your data will be fed into the Marine Conservation Society's annual waste survey, which aims to reduce manmade debris at source. There’s also the chance to listen in to talks from marine conservation experts, go on rock pool rambles and visit aquariums. The BTCV’s programme lasts for a week but if you don’t have that much time to spare, get stuck in with Surfers Against Sewage, who hold regular beach cleaning days across the country.
Need to know: A week-long Devon sweep starts at £275 including accommodation. See www.btcv.org.uk for more information
Self-sustainability in Norfolk
A new social enterprise in Norfolk, West Lexham runs an exciting array of courses with a sustainable ethos. There’s everything from cob-oven building and permaculture to tree-house building and cookery. The courses vary in cost, but for cheap access, try applying to be a volunteer helper, which gives you the chance to try new things totally free. You can also volunteer to help with building, decorating and the running of the enterprise in return for room and board. In your free time a wild swim in the river is a must.
Need to know: Prices depend on the course you choose. See www.westlexham.org for more information.
Dolphin watching in the Hebrides
Sail away on a whale and dolphin research tour of the Hebrides, run by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust. This adventure is live-aboard (with three double berths for volunteers) and gives you the chance to learn the ropes on the yacht along with the essentials of seabird and cetacean surveying. There’s plenty of wildlife to see, with bottlenose dolphins, porpoise, basking sharks, minke and killer whales among regular visitors to these waters.
Need to know: Prices range from £900 to £1,300 depending on whether you choose a nine or 11-day trip. See www.whaledolphintrust.co.uk for more information.
Protecting ancient woodland across the UK
Rhododendrons are pretty in flower but they are an invasive species. You can help preserve your nearby forest and also learn traditional coppicing skills with packages from Responsible Travel. Along with coppicing and rhododendron clearance, participants also get to have a go at tree planting and woodland crafts. There are also plenty of opportunities to explore the surrounding area. If you don’t have more than a day to spare, get in touch with the Forestry Commission, which has plenty of little conservation jobs for volunteers, including clearing scrub or a stint as a volunteer ranger.
Need to know: Prices start at £150 for three days. See www.responsibletravel.com for more information.
Butterfly conservation in Cornwall
Butterflies aren’t just beautiful; they’re also an important indicator of the health of an eco-system. With a BCTV break to Bodmin Moor, in Cornwall, you get the chance to improve the moorland habitat for butterflies by clearing gorse. While working on this project and learning more about butterflies, you stay in gorgeous yurts on a farm and there’s plenty of time off to explore the incredible prehistoric ruins that Bodmin Moor is famous for, cycle or explore Cornwall’s beaches.
Need to know: Prices start from £190 with an early bird discount for a week in October. See www.btcv.org.uk for more information.
Wild wetlands in Northumberland
Northumberland’s stunning coastline and wetlands are a well-kept secret, with plenty for volunteers to get involved in. The National Trust runs a number of Northumbrian schemes, including one that involves restoring footpaths and clearing vegetation at Newton Pool Nature Reserve. On your day off, explore the dramatic ruins of the nearby Dunstanburgh Castle, which benefit from spectacular North Sea views. Don’t forget your waterproofs and wellies. If Northumbria is a bit too far away for you, check out the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust for wetlands volunteering opportunities around the UK.
Need to know: Prices start at £110 including accommodation. See www.nationaltrust.org.uk for more information.
Measuring biodiversity in Oxfordshire
How is climate change affecting our forests? You can play a part in answering that question on a eight day volunteering trip to Wytham woods near Oxford, which is a site of special scientific interest [SSSI]. Organised by Earthwatch, the trip allows you to work as a data collector alongside the environmental scientists studying the area. For real science buffs, there’s also the opportunity to don a white coat yourself and spend some time analysing your findings in the lab.
Need to know: Prices start at £895, which covers stay in bunks at a residential field study centre, and food. See www.earthwatch.org for more information.
Working with woodpeckers in Sussex
Renowned for its lichens and woodpeckers, Ashburnham in East Sussex is a site of special scientific interest that is usually closed to the public. Unless, that is, you’re volunteering with the BTCV, which has a seven-day trip that includes mucking in with scrub clearance and looking after young tree plantations. The trip is fully catered and you get to stay in a wood cabin with your own bedroom - surely the holy grail of volunteering holidays.
Need to know: Prices for a five-day working holidays start at £160. See www.btcv.org.uk for more information.
Seal surveying in Scotland
Play at being a marine biologist surveying the seal population in Findhorn Bay on the northeastern tip of Scotland, and you could actually help future generations of seals to thrive. Accommodation is at a mansion house, where you will help with organic gardening or cooking in the morning, before setting out with a (proper) marine biologist to research seals and spot dolphins.
Need to know: Prices start at £450 for a week. See www.responsibletravel.com for more information.
Biking round Britain
Youth initiative, the Otesha Project organises six-week, 600-mile cycling tours that mix up days spent cycling, with others that focus on education and volunteering on community projects or farms. Volunteer projects include mucking in on permaculture farms, building eco-classrooms, supporting veg box schemes or bicycle projects, or even ‘herding’ turkeys, although what you do does depend on the route you take.
Need to know: Prices start at £800 (in sponsorship), with accommodation in tents. See www.otesha.org.uk for more information.
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