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  • Rachel Bicker, Biodiversity Consultant

Do one thing for your local wildlife

Last year Gatwick Airport was an honoured recipient of a BIG Biodiversity Challenge award, and while the project has benefitted from the backing of a big business, the success is down to a fantastic collective of volunteers donating their valuable time and energy to wildlife conservation. Whether local conservation groups, keen amateur naturalists, airport staff on a team day, small businesses or trainee ecologists; all contribute to conserving Gatwick’s biodiversity.

Gatwick Airport office staff on a conservation volunteering task day

Why might someone volunteer in wildlife conservation around an airport? It just so happens I used to volunteer locally to Gatwick before I began working there. After graduating from university (nearly 10 years ago), I was uncertain about my future and unsure of what to do next. I knew wanted to help the environment in some way, but where to start?

I literally Googled the words ‘conservation volunteering Crawley’ (my most pivotal internet search!), which led me to my local Wildlife Trusts and a conservation group, the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership. This group has been moving from strength to strength for over 20 years now, helping preserve a great variety of habitats in the landscape surrounding the airport.

Volunteering introduced me to the nature virtually on my doorstep, along with the incredible people working to conserve it. It got me out of the house in winter months, getting stuck into things I had never experienced such as coppicing small trees, using a billhook to sharpen stakes, creating small ponds amongst other things. It also helped immensely during personal struggles, taking me out of habitual mind patterns and bringing me closer to the natural world.

It is obvious that personally, I got a huge amount out of volunteering in conservation (plus I never predicted I might actually end up working alongside the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership)! However, the importance of conservation groups cannot be over stated, as they are the boots on the ground and a hub of local wildlife knowledge. With the UK landscape continually being squeezed, there has never been a more important time to support our established wildlife and conservation organisations.

Maintaining woodland footpaths reduces the impacts from recreational use, allowing woodland ground flora to recover

Gatwick saw a further opportunity to increase their support, through backing the role of a People and Wildlife Officer. Tom Simpson specifically oversees the conservation on Gatwick’s landholdings, assisting with practical habitat management in the airport biodiversity action plans and coordinating groups of volunteers. He is integral to connecting people with the nature around Gatwick; as people only gain a sense of responsibility of our countryside when they directly experience it, his work is vitally important.

Why not contact your nearest conservation organisation to find out if there are any established projects in need of support? If you cannot find a conservation project local to you, then perhaps consider setting one up yourself. In the age of social media, there has never been a better time to reach out to volunteers and to coordinate our efforts.

Gatwick’s People and Wildlife Officer, Tom Simpson leads a wide variety of volunteer tasks on airport conservation areas, from large scale scrub clearance, to small scale invertebrate habitat creation

Leafcutter Bees (Megachile willughbiella) have now taken up residence in the above bee hotel

Summer task: Gatwick staff removing Himalayan Balsam along the River Mole, north of the terminals

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