Recognised for their enthusiasm and commitment

The awards, which took place at Kendal Mountain Festival on Saturday 16th November at a ceremony sponsored by Columbia Sportswear, recognise the outstanding contribution that volunteers make in helping to care for National Park landscapes.

Local volunteer Katie Armstrong, who started volunteering at The Sill: National Landscape Discovery Centre in July 2018 whilst at Newcastle College was recognised in the Young Person Award category. Meanwhile, South Tyne Sustainability, a volunteer run group that aims to raise awareness of environmental issues and promote conservation and sustainable lifestyle choices received the Group Award.

In total, four awards were presented by TV presenter and explorer Paul Rose at the event:

  • Young Person Award (25 and under) – Katie Armstrong (Northumberland National Park)
  • Group Award – South Tyne Sustainability (Northumberland National Park)
  • Individual Award – David Bream (North York Moors National Park)
  • Project Award – Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms (Cairngorms National Park)

Recognised for her enthusiasm and commitment, Katie originally started volunteering at The Sill as part of her Newcastle College ‘Learning for Life’ course, designed to equip young people with disabilities or learning difficulties with vocational skills and prepare for independent living. Assisting with the day to day running of The Sill, greeting visitors on their arrival, and selling local produce in the shop, Katie has become a favourite with volunteers and visitors alike. She has used the skills she gained to secure an apprenticeship but continues to volunteer at The Sill one day a week.

Volunteer-led group South Tyne Sustainability was recognised for its commitment to reducing the environmental impact of the community of Haltwhistle and surrounding villages. Over the last 10 years the group has run a variety of projects including a programme of evening talks covering topics such as electric cars, renewable energy and solid wall insulation; a film festival day with screenings of environmentally themed films of international renown as well as locally made or relevant films; an annual ‘Green Christmas Fair’ featuring recycled, up-cycled and unique crafts; and an annual Seed Swap at the Spring Plant Festival in Haltwhistle as well as launching a regular e-newsletter which is circulated to over 200 people in the local area.

South Tyne Sustainability also recently initiated ‘Refill Hadrian’s Wall’, working with Sustainable Brampton and Sustainable Carlisle in asking pubs, shops and cafes along Hadrian’s Wall to commit to refilling visitors water bottles to reduce the demand for single-use plastic water bottles and associated litter.

Tony Gates, chief executive of Northumberland National Park Authority, commented:

“The National Parks UK Volunteer Awards are an incredible opportunity to recognise the outstanding contribution that our volunteers make every day in helping to care for the National Park landscapes and inspire our visitors.

“We’re thrilled that South Tyne Sustainability and Northumberland National Park volunteer Katie Armstrong have been awarded this year’s Group Award and Young Person Award. The South Tyne Sustainability initiative has made significant contributions to natural environment of the park and their commitment to raising awareness of sustainable living is infectious. Katie’s boundless energy and enthusiasm has also seen her become a firm favourite with volunteers and visitors and her commitment to helping visitors uncover the unique characteristics of Northumberland National Park epitomises the very best of our values and ethos and this award is exceptionally well-deserved. Congratulations to all!”

Volunteer Co-ordinators from each of the UK’s National Parks made up the judging panel for this year’s awards. They commented: “Judging these awards is a humbling experience as it gives us the opportunity to learn about so many people and projects that are making an immense contribution to the 15 National Parks across the UK. It was a difficult choice this year as there were so many inspiring entries.”

More details on the UK National Parks Volunteer Awards 2019 winners:

Young Person Award (25 years or younger): Katie Armstrong (Northumberland National Park)

Katie is a much-valued volunteer at The Sill visitor centre at Northumberland National Park. She joined the volunteer team at The Sill in July 2018, after they were approached by her personal tutor at Newcastle College. Katie had been studying on a ‘Learning for Life’ course, which is designed to equip young people living with a disability and/or a learning difficulty with the skills needed to enter into employment; develop vocationally; and prepare for independent living.  Katie’s tasks are greeting visitors on arrival, actively selling local produce and crafts in our shop, and assisting with the day to day running of the centre.

Her nomination says: “Her presence within our visitor centre greatly contributes to visitor experience and her personality and enthusiasm means she is a firm favourite with visitors. When we first met Katie we saw a shy and quiet individual who struggled with meeting new people but within no time at all, Katie’s confidence has grown in abundance. She approaches members of staff she has not yet met in order to introduce herself, is incredibly chatty, has no problem talking to customers and isn’t afraid to seek extra help when needed. Katie makes me proud every shift with the work she completes and the incredible way she has made massive improvements during her time volunteering with us.” 

Group Award (For a group or organisation, large or small: South Tyne Sustainability (Northumberland National Park)

South Tyne Sustainability is a volunteer run group which, over the first decade of its existence, has done a huge amount to raise awareness of environmental issues and to promote conservation and sustainable lifestyle choices.

For the last six years two volunteers have led a series of walks on the verges of minor roads which has fostered an interest in and enjoyment of the biodiversity of the Park; forged new connections and helped to share knowledge between the group and the Park. The group is entirely volunteer led and run and has done much to raise the profile of sustainable living by Acting Local and Thinking Global not least through the verges project and the new refill project they have embarked on.

Their nomination says “All who are involved in STS in whatever capacity are made to feel welcome and valued and their enthusiasm in wishing to make their community and the communities around them more sustainable is infectious. Although they are working for their community they see the need to forge links with other communities around them and this network adds strength, depth and longevity to the projects that they undertake.”

Individual Award: David Bream (North York Moors National Park)

David has completed over 3,000 hours of volunteering since 2013. He is a Voluntary Ranger, carrying out weekend patrols, checking public rights of way, repairing minor problems and helping the public to enjoy their visit to the National Park. He also leads groups of volunteers on practical tasks all over the North York Moors.

His nomination states “David’s volunteering is notable because he is willing to take on the less glamorous tasks day after day. David has been a positive ambassador for volunteering and changes in the approach to volunteering. He is always willing to try something new, to trial a new approach and give really constructive feedback. He seems tireless in his commitment and is enormously passionate about the National Park, the landscape and wildlife, and the work of the Authority. David volunteers because he genuinely wants to care for the National Park, and this makes him one of our most effective and valuable volunteers.”

Project Award: Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms (Cairngorms National Park)

This entirely volunteer led project aims to increase the understanding of the distribution and habitat needs of six rare invertebrate species in the Cairngorms through surveys and observations. The six species are: Kentish glory (Endromis versicolor), Dark-bordered beauty (Epione vespertaria), Northern silver-stiletto fly (Spiriverpa lunulata)Pine hoverfly (Blera fallax)Small scabious mining bee (Andrenamarginata) and Shining guest ant (Formicoxenus nitidulus). The project is working with landowners to promote the management of land that enables these species to thrive and spread.

Their nomination says: “The Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms (RIC) has brought people together for the greater cause of protecting nature and has displayed excellent partnership working and inter-industry collaboration. One of the most incredible things about the project is its ability to reach and bring together such a wide variety of industries and individuals – conservationists, scientists, farmers, foresters, local authorities, businesses, NGO’s communities and families – in order be stirred into conserving essential habitats for these threatened species and thousands of others”.