Mencap Volunteer GroupThe Mencap Volunteer Group, which has people working at four national nature reserves (NNRs) have scooped an award for their efforts.

The group, which has volunteers at Barnack Hills and Holes, Castor Hanglands and Monks Wood in Cambridgeshire and Collyweston Great Wood in Northamptonshire, has won Natural England’s Volunteers of the Year team award.

Natural England cares for England’s main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that more than 4,000 NNRs and sites of special scientific interest are looked after and improved. Its awards, now in their second year, recognise and celebrate the contribution that volunteers make to support the agency’s nature conservation work. Natural England staff and volunteers took part in the voting and nominated 16 individuals and 18 teams for recognition, with the Mencap Volunteer Group coming out on top.

The Mencap Volunteer Group meet every week and show how it is possible to gain physical and mental wellbeing from contact with the countryside – while making a huge contribution to conserving and enhancing the environment at the four NNRs.

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Fencing, coppicing, scrub clearance or herding livestock are all part of their weekly routine. What began as a short-term trial in 2006 has evolved into an indispensable part of Natural England’s management of the four sites. Now, the group’s involvement has enabled the NNR team to use them as a reliable resource around which other volunteering work is coordinated.

Outstanding work
Chris Gardiner, senior reserve manager for Natural England, said: “The work that the Mencap Volunteer Group has done on our nature reserves over the past few years has been absolutely outstanding. We have 1,000 acres of land to manage in this area and we really couldn’t do without them now. There’s always a really positive atmosphere around the group – we enjoy having them and I’m sure they get a lot out of it too.”

Regular NNR volunteers have worked with the group, adapting to their needs and providing expert support like tractor driving and chainsaw work, enabling the group to achieve even more. Equally, the Mencap supervisors lead, encourage and support the team with tremendous dedication and commitment.

At the awards event, held at the London Wetland Centre, Natural England’s chairman Andrew Sells said: “All our volunteers work incredibly hard. Their skills, dedication and expertise make a vital contribution to what we can deliver. They work tirelessly for the natural environment.”