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A2. Taking action for nature: volunteer time spent in conservation

Type: Response Indicator

Introduction

This indicator presents an index of the number of hours worked by volunteers for 14 UK conservation charities and public bodies (including National Parks England which represents all National Parks in England – see background section for a full list). Conservation volunteering includes any voluntary activity for an organisation or community undertaken to: further the understanding, protection or enjoyment of the natural environment, including wildlife recording and surveying; practical countryside management; providing education, training and guided walks; and administration or other office support. 

Key results

The amount of time people spend volunteering to assist with conservation in part reflects society’s interest in and commitment to biodiversity.

Between 2000 and 2018, the amount of time volunteers contributed to conservation activities in the UK increased by 53%. It also increased by 11% in the 5 years to 2018 and by 5% in the most recent year available.

Figure A2i. Index of volunteer time spent on conservation activities with selected environmental organisations in the UK, 2000 to 2018.

A line graph showing how the index of volunteer time spent on conservation activities with selected environmental organisations in the UK has changed between 2000 and 2018. Except for a fall in 2001 when access to the countryside was restricted due to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, the index has remained above its base-line value. In 2018, the index had increased by 53% since the time series began in 2000.

Notes:

  1. The index is calculated using a non-weighted aggregation across organisations. It is therefore strongly dependent on the trends reported by the organisations recording large amounts for total volunteer hours.
  2. Historical data were not available for all organisations in all years. To make best use of available data and to allow a combined index to be compiled, interpolation estimates have been used to fill gaps. Further details are given in the background section.
  3. Data provided by the Canal & River Trust (formerly British Waterways), The Conservation Volunteers, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority, National Parks England, Natural England, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts were for financial years rather than calendar years. Financial year data have been assigned to the first calendar year (e.g. 2018/19 data were allocated to 2018).
  4. The data series was revised in 2018 due to some organisations, most notably The Wildlife Trusts, providing updated figures for previous years (see background section for further details). The methodology used to calculate the interpolated estimates was also revised in 2018. This chart is therefore not comparable to those presented in publications prior to 2018.

Source: Bat Conservation Trust, Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland, British Trust for Ornithology, Butterfly Conservation, Canal & River Trust, The Conservation Volunteers, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority, Natural England, National Parks England, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, Plantlife, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust.

Assessment of change in volunteer time spent in conservation

  Long term Short term Latest year
Conservation volunteering

Improving
2000–2018

Improving
2013–2018

Increased (2018)

Note: Long- and short-term assessments are based on a 3% rule of thumb. Where possible, the base years for these assessments use a three-year average. See Assessing Indicators.

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Indicator description

A decrease in time spent volunteering between 2000 and 2001 can be attributed to a decline in all conservation activity due to controls on countryside access during the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak. The small peak in volunteer time in 2007 was largely driven by an increase in volunteer numbers at The Conservation Volunteers which initiated a number of large youth programmes in that year. The 2011 high point, however, was driven by increases in the volunteer hours reported by 9 of the 14 organisations in the indicator and the subsequent decrease in 2012 was due to a drop in the number of volunteers across seven of the organisations, most notably: the British Trust for Ornithology, The Wildlife Trusts, The Conservation Volunteers and the RSPB. The high point in 2018 is due to all organisations except one recording an increase in volunteer time. These changes reflect: (i) the cyclical nature of some projects undertaken, such as tree planting and work on specific nature reserves and (ii) the revised methodologies used to survey and record the number of volunteer hours.

More recently, the indicator remained relatively stable between 2012 and 2015 and showed a gradual increase in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Although the indicator has increased by a little over 11% in the 5 years since 2013, trends reported by individual organisations vary considerably. For instance, the Canal & River Trust (formerly known as British Waterways) reported an increase in volunteer hours of more than 87%, whereas The Conservation Volunteers reported a decrease of about 37%. Increased volunteering with the Canal & River Trust is likely due to the organisation’s policy to actively recruit additional volunteers (in place since 2011); decreased volunteering with The Conservation Volunteers is due to higher figures up to 2011 (with a peak in 2007) and a gradual decline after 2014. Notably, from 2017 to 2018, the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland reported an increase in survey volunteer time of nearly 87%. Many of these trends reflect the cyclical nature of projects undertaken by different organisations.

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Relevance

Volunteer time is one way of assessing the level of public engagement with biodiversity. Volunteering for conservation charities is critical to the successful delivery of many of the objectives of the country biodiversity and environment strategies – for example, volunteers collect much of the data used for monitoring the status of species and also undertake practical work to manage threatened habitats.

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Background

The indicator is based on data on volunteer hours supplied by 14 conservation charities and public bodies operating in the UK:

  • Bat Conservation Trust
  • Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland 
  • British Trust for Ornithology
  • Butterfly Conservation
  • Canal & River Trust 
  • The Conservation Volunteers
  • Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority
  • National Parks England (n1)
  • Natural England
  • Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority
  • Plantlife
  • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
  • The Wildlife Trusts
  • Woodland Trust

Table A2i provides information on whether the organisations contributing to the indicator provided data for the whole or part of the United Kingdom or Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales).

Table A2i. Organisations contributing data to the indicator

Providing UK- or GB-wide data Providing data for part of the UK
Bat Conservation Trust Canal & River Trust
Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland Loch Lomond & The Trossochs National Park Authority
British Trust for Ornithology National Parks England
Butterfly Conservation Natural England
The Conservation Volunteers Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority
Plantlife  
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds  
The Wildlife Trusts  
Woodland Trust  

Some organisations were able to provide accurate figures for the number of hours worked; others provided estimates based on the number of volunteers and an estimate of average days worked by their volunteers each year.

Data are not available for all organisations in all years. For the current indicator, missing values have been estimated by Defra statisticians. In the historical dataset estimates have been used in the index calculations for the Canal & River Trust (formerly British Waterways) (2000 to 2009), Butterfly Conservation (2000 to 2002), The Conservation Volunteers (2000 to 2005), Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority (2000, 2001 and 2003), National Parks England (2000 to 2008), Natural England (2000 and 2002), Plantlife (2000 to 2006), The Wildlife Trusts (2000 to 2003 and 2006), and the Woodland Trust (2000 and 2001). The estimates were based on (a) the trend in the data provided by the organisation, and (b) the trend in the data provided by other organisations for the missing years. The number of volunteer hours has been converted to an index (set to 2000 = 100).

The methodology used by conservation charities can change from year to year. This can cause fluctuations in the data, particularly where there are revised methods used by charities that have previously recorded large amounts for total volunteer hours. In 2014, The Wildlife Trusts improved their methodology to more accurately record volunteer hours and to only report activities undertaken by registered volunteers, rather than those undertaken by registered and casual volunteers. This resulted in a 40% drop in recorded hours for that year. As The Wildlife Trusts accounted for 20% of the total number of volunteer hours in 2014, this change had a noticeable effect on the overall trend and it was largely responsible for the significant fall in the indicator from 2013 to 2014 that has been reported in previous publications. It also had a negative impact on the short-term assessments of this indicator reported in 2016 and 2017. Rather than continuing to allow this methodological change to adversely affect the results, when the actual fall in volunteer hours was much smaller than that previously reported, Defra statisticians obtained additional information from The Wildlife Trusts. This information has been used to scale the data from 2000 to 2013 in such a way that it now provides estimates for volunteering that are broadly equivalent to those provided under the new methodology. While the chart, values and accompanying datasheet are therefore not comparable to those in previous publications, they do present a clearer trend for conservation volunteering in the UK since 2000.

In broad terms, the type of work undertaken by volunteers falls into four categories:

  • Countryside management & advisory support;
  • Surveys, data input & analysis;
  • Administrative or office support; and
  • ‘Other conservation work’, which includes activities such as fundraising, training and educational events.

Not every organisation provides the breakdown of volunteering hours shown in Figure A2ii, and therefore the trends shown in this figure are different from the overall assessment in Figure A2i. 

Volunteer hours relating to all 4 of the work categories listed above have all increased in 2018 (Figure A2ii). The 2011 to 2013 peak in ‘countryside management & advisory support’ was driven by several organisations, most notably the RSPB and the Woodland Trust reporting a higher than average number of volunteer hours for this category. The sharp rise in hours relating to ‘other conservation work’ in 2010 was driven by the RSPB and the sharp fall in hours relating to ‘administrative or office support’ by the British Trust for Ornithology, the latter reporting an end to the ‘Bird Atlas Project’ as a reason for the decrease. Historically, organisations have reported that changes are due to shifts in strategic focus that result in significant adjustments to projects such as tree planting. They have also cited the need to consider changes to volunteer numbers in order to comply with health and safety regulations.

Figure A2ii. Index of volunteer time spent on conservation activities with selected environmental organisations in the UK, by category of work, 2000 to 2018.

A line graph showing changes in the UK in the conservation volunteering index from 2000 to 2018 by activity type. The index is broken down into 4 broad activity types: countryside management & advisory support; surveys, data input & analysis; administrative or office support; and ‘other conservation work’, which includes activities such as fundraising, training and educational events.

Notes:

  1. Interpolated estimates have been used to fill missing years for Butterfly Conservation (2000 to 2002), Natural England (2000 and 2002), Plantlife (2000 to 2006) and the Woodland Trust (2000, 2001, 2017 and 2018).
  2. The data series was revised in 2018 due to some organisations, most notably The Wildlife Trusts, providing updated figures for previous years (see background section for further details). The methodology used to calculate the interpolated estimates was also revised in 2018. This chart is therefore not comparable to those presented in publications prior to 2018.

Source: Bat Conservation Trust, Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland, British Trust for Ornithology, Butterfly Conservation, Natural England, Plantlife, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Woodland Trust.

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Goals and Targets

Aichi Targets for which this is a primary indicator

Strategic Goal A. Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society.

Aichi Target 1 icon

Target 1: By 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.

 

Aichi Targets for which this is a relevant indicator

Strategic Goal A. Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society.

Aichi Target 2 icon

Target 2: By 2020, at the latest, biodiversity values have been integrated into national and local development and poverty reduction strategies and planning processes and are being incorporated into national accounting, as appropriate, and reporting systems.

Aichi Target 4 icon

Target 4: By 2020, at the latest, Governments, business and stakeholders at all levels have taken steps to achieve or have implemented plans for sustainable production and consumption and have kept the impacts of use of natural resources well within safe ecological limits.

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Reference Title
Association of Inland Navigation Authorities Quantifying the extent and value of volunteering in relation to inland waterways  (PDF, 508 kb)
Bat Conservation Trust Home page
Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland Home page
British Trust for Ornithology Home page
Butterfly Conservation Home page
Canal & River Trust Home page
The Conservation Volunteers Home page
Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority Home page
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority Home page
Plantlife Home page
National Parks England Home page
Natural England Home page
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Home page
The Wildlife Trusts Home page
Woodland Trust Home page

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Downloads

Download the Datasheet from JNCC's Resource Hub.

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Last updated: October 2020

Latest data available: 2018 (and financial year 2018/19)

 

This content is available on request as a pdf in non-accessible format. If you wish for a copy please go to the enquiries page.

 

(n1) National Park data for England are now collected through the National Parks England Head Office, rather than by contacting individual National Parks directly.

Categories:

UK Biodiversity Indicators 2020

Published: .

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