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


Type: Response Indicator


Indicator Description

This indicator presents an index of the number of hours worked by volunteers for 13 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. 




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

Between 2000 and 2016, the amount of time contributed by volunteers in the UK has increased by 40%. It decreased by 6% in the 5 years to 2016, but in the most recent year available, the amount of time spent volunteering has increased by 4%.

The indicator is assessed as increasing over the long term and showing no change over the short term.




Figure A2i.  Index of volunteer time spent in selected UK conservation organisations, 2000 to 2016.


Figure A2i. Index of volunteer time spent in selected UK conservation organisations, 2000 to 2016.



  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 Conservation Volunteers, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority, Natural England, the Canal & River Trust (formerly British Waterways), National Parks England, 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. 2016/17 data were allocated to 2016).
  4. The data series has been revised since the 2017 publication due to some organisations, most notably The Wildlife Trusts, providing updated figures for previous years (see background section for further details).
  5. The methodology used to calculate the interpolated estimates was also revised in 2018. This chart is therefore not comparable to those presented in previous publications.


Source: Bat Conservation Trust, Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (formerly Botanical Society of the British Isles), British Trust for Ornithology, Butterfly Conservation, Canal & River Trust (formerly British Waterways), The Conservation Volunteers, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority, Natural England, National Parks England, Plantlife, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust.


Assessment of change in volunteer time spent in conservation


Long term

Short term

Latest year

Conservation volunteering

indicator improving

2010 indicator stable2011–2016

Increased (2016)


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 (TWT) improved their methodology to more accurately record volunteer hours, this resulted in a 40% drop in recorded hours in that year.  As TWT contribute 20% of the total this has an effect on the overall trend. The assessment is based on a three-year average from the baseline, using the three earliest consecutive years available.

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 is largely driven by an increase in volunteer numbers at The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) which initiated a number of large youth programmes in that year.  The decrease in 2012, however, is due to a decrease in the number of volunteers across a number of organisations including: TCV, National Parks England, Bat Conservation Trust (BCT), the RSPB and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).  The TCV figures showed a decrease from their peak in 2011, but have since levelled and TCV are predicting an increase in 2016. Additionally, TCV have updated their data reporting to only include registered volunteers from 2014 and part of the decline may be a result of their focus on improving data quality. 

A number of organisations have also seen a decline since 2010 including: RSPB; Natural England; Plantlife; and the Woodland Trust.  This reflects the cyclical nature of some projects undertaken, such as tree planting and work on specific nature reserves, but also revised methodologies used to survey and record the number of volunteer hours.


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Last updated: July 2018

Latest data available: 2016 (and financial year 2016/17)