Concerns have been raised over the army of volunteers that has helped maintain the Yorkshire Dales landscapes since 1964, after it emerged the average age of those undertaking work such as footpath conservation is 63.
A meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority was told the body was revising its strategy to ensure it could continue to provide at least 7,000 volunteer days a year, with 15 per cent of individuals coming from under-represented groups, and in particular would be targeting those aged under 30.
A report to the meeting highlighted how only three per cent of volunteers were from BAME groups and three per cent considered themselves to have a limiting long-term illness or disability.
The authority’s recreation management member champion, Nick Cotton, told members while young people stood to gain confidence and skills by volunteering, of the 325 regular Dales Volunteers none were under the age of 30.
He said: “What we have to accept is the value of volunteering cuts both ways. To paraphrase Shakespeare ‘It is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes’, so we as an authority benefit from people that do this work volunteering and the volunteers themselves get a huge amount from this.”
Members were told as part of its revised volunteering strategy the authority was examining opportunities for new ways for people to volunteer, such as by creating a photography role, as well as aiming to attract more skilled volunteers to help in particular areas to help the authority achieve its goals.
The meeting was told resources would be focused on increasing the volunteer days provided by young people. As well as highlighting the range of opportunities for young volunteers, the authority is to review issues such as expenses and training policies to ensure they are not presenting barriers to young people.
However, the authority’s chief executive David Butterworth said the authority was “very much aware” of the issues surrounding attracting younger volunteers and said it was important to focus on volunteers’ motivations.
The meeting was told attracting younger volunteers had previously proved difficult, and a rapid reversal of the situation was unlikely due to the labour market crisis as young people “could earn £15 an hour washing pots”.
Member Richard Foster, who is also the leader of Craven District Council, warned the authority not to ignore the fact that a number of the volunteers were those that had “made a living, taken early retirement and were now prepared to put something back into the community”.
He said: “Make sure you look after the ones that you know you can get whilst still making an attempt to get the younger ones, but I think you might find it a little difficult.”