in with the old, and in with the new

by Dawn Groundsell

As a communications officer for Friends of the Lake District – a conservation charity that works to protect Cumbria’s amazing landscapes – I was tasked with promoting our largest ever volunteer conservation days. Our regular volunteer days usually attract 10-20 people, but last Autumn we held two bigger events – mass volunteering events called ‘Fell Care Days’.

The idea behind the days was to highlight the huge amount of work which goes into taking care of the fells, not only by volunteers, but also by the organisations managing the landscape. We also wanted to publicize all the benefits the uplands provide in terms of clean water, locking up carbon, and providing food, jobs, leisure and health and well being opportunities.

Organised by our Flora of the Fells project, the first ever ‘Fell Care Day' saw 120 volunteers and 50 school children descend on the Helvellyn area, undertaking tasks including repairing a dry stone wall sheepfold and woodland paths, clearing drains on upland paths, and a sky high litter pick which produced 14 bags of rubbish. 780 volunteer hours, the equivalent of 11 days work was undertaken on the day. School children learned about water and conservation and built a willow red squirrel hide and bird boxes for the local woodland.

Many organisations took part, including the Grasmere Red Squirrel group, United Utilities, Natural England and the Lake District National Park.

A heavily used footpath up Helvellyn passed right by lots of our volunteer activities, so we generated a QR code and put it on information signs along the path, and on the backs of some volunteers’ rucksacks, which if passers by swiped it with their smart phones, took them directly to the donation page on our website, or to an information page on the Flora project website, www.floraofthefells.com.

Using a traditional press release we secured a Border TV reporter who filmed a piece for the evening news, helped by the stunning weather, views and children involved.

I went to Helvellyn planning to tweet all the activities as they were going on throughout the day, but was scuppered by lack of mobile reception. After climbing high up the mountain I finally managed to get enough coverage to tweet and speak to Radio Cumbria – setting up an interview with Fell Care Day organiser Sue Manson back at our base at the foot of the mountain – which she conducted by climbing to nearest small hill with a phone with better network coverage – thanks to 02. Being new to all this, I was momentarily stumped when someone tweeted asking if there was a hashtag to follow, whereupon we quickly set one up.

For the second Fell Care Day, in deepest Ennerdale three weeks later, mobile reception was nearly non-existent, so I stayed in the office and Sue rang me from a payphone with updates which I then tweeted, and posted on Facebook, which worked quite well.

The Ennerdale day saw 80 volunteers and 80 local school children dodge hail showers to plant 1000 oak and birch trees, remove hundreds of metres of old fencing, and create habitat improvements for rare Marsh Fritillary butterflies. Volunteers undertook the equivalent of 236 hours or 34 days’ work on the fells in that single day, and a group braved the weather to survey for red grouse on nearby Herdus fell, where flying grouse were spotted – the first time these upland birds have been recorded here for many years.

Our Facebook page received 1775 views on that day, and 1273 the following day when I put the photos  of it up.

Rob Grange, one of our volunteers, made a short film of the day and Border TV filmed another piece and we had reports on Radio Cumbria and Lakeland Radio.

Our tweets for both Fell Care days were mentioned and retweeted 27 times, with a potential reach of 23,438 followers. Two follow up days to finish building the drystone wall sheep fold started on the Helvellyn day, also got 15 retweets and a potential reach of 10,727.

Over the month, of the top 10 referral sites driving traffic to our website, Facebook was third and Twitter was tenth.

We had lots of good feedback comments from those who took part, both in person and online, so we’re planning to run two more Fell Care Days next autumn, when we hope to get even more people involved and achieve even more on the ground!

Links

Read more about Helvellyn Fell Care Day on our website

See the Helvellyn Fell Care Day in pictures on our facebook album

Border TV report of Helvellyn day

Read more about Ennerdale Fell Care Day on our website

Ennerdale Fell Care Day in pictures

Finishing St John’s Common sheep fold rebuild facebook album

For more info contact Dawn Groundsell, dawn-groundsell@fld.org.uk

photo courtesy of Dan Slee