A brand new adventure: a chat with volunteer Tom Helliwell
19 October 2018
Tom Helliwell had worked behind a desk his entire life. When he was made redundant, he took it as an opportunity to do something radically different.
“I used to go camping in Edale when I was a little lad, but once I’d grown up and life got busier and busier, visiting the Peaks became just a distant memory. But when I was made redundant, I started spending time again on the moors. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was looking for inspiration of what to do with myself now I had the time.”
Tom found out about volunteering for Moors for the Future Partnership when looking for walking routes on the Peak District National Park’s website.
“Being a volunteer on these massive, open moors was something completely different to working in an office. It’s an entirely new experience and I was a little nervous because my knowledge of blanket bogs felt limited. I also wasn’t a very active person beforehand but years of volunteering have really improved my fitness. On my first say out in September 2014 we walked from the Snake up onto Kinder to measure the water flow in some of the gullies. The worry I’d had of not being good enough melted away. The staff were supportive and the view was sensational. I was hooked”.
Volunteering on science and conservation projects has helped improve Tom’s knowledge of plant and animals species.
“The staff I work with really know their stuff, so I’ve been able to act a bit like sphagnum and soak up all their knowledge. I still struggle sometimes with the different species of sphagnum, but with help from colleagues and the handy field guides I'm improving. I'm much better with the different grasses and other plant species though!”
Most recently, Tom has been involved with setting up the cotton grass cutting trials. These trials are investigating whether cutting cotton grass helps sphagnum moss to grow. Tom is also currently involved in his fourth annual dipwell campaign.
“I like being involved in a range of projects. It keeps me busy, as it means I’m always learning something new, which is important to me. I’m one of those people that always wants to be learning new skills and finding out new information. There’s so much to discover about the natural world. If I learn something new, it’s been a good day”.
The moors are notorious for their wet, misty, and cold weather and it is always interesting to find out how volunteers cope with this harsh environment.
“I don’t mind the weather when you’re dressed for it. I was out with someone, on one of those wet, misty and cold days, who forgot the GPS so we didn't manage to locate all the sites we were supposed to. It ended up being a longer day than planned and we were pretty wet and miserable by the end of it. When I get home I like to unwind with a cup of tea and a few biscuits by the fire, I certainly needed it that day!
Tom regularly volunteers and this summer has been a busy one for him. At very busy times he volunteers between 1 to 3 days a week.
Tom why do you keep coming back?
“The moors round here inspired me to do something completely new. I do things I’d never even thought about doing before which has been invaluable to me. But more importantly, on one of the sites I regularly work on, there is a butty van on the road where we park. Having a bacon butty before lugging all that equipment across the moors definitely helps to keep me motivated. Although the last few times I’ve been the van hasn’t been there…perhaps I should ask to work on another site, preferably the one where the van has gone!”
Volunteers are invaluable to Moors for the Future Partnership. Thank you to Tom and all our volunteers for your continued dedication and enthusiasm. We would be lost without you!
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