Volunteering for nature: the impact of the expert-lay divide
Ockenden, Nick (2007)

By Nick Ockenden, Institute for Volunteering Research

The number of people volunteering in nature conservation throughout the UK has increased considerably in recent years. This paper will explore some of the reasons for its continued growth and development. At the policy level, faith in top-down and expert-led approaches to the management of nature has been eroded. This has happened while interest in the role of communities in forming part of the solution has increased. The UK has seen a subsequent growth in ‘community-based conservation’, with many thousands of volunteers actively involved through hundreds of organisations each week.

Despite this growth, an expert-lay divide continues to influence the development of volunteering in nature conservation. This paper will explore the continued debate around the place of ‘non professional’ volunteers in the management of what many see as ‘science-based’ conservation problems. Impacts including differing understandings of the objectives of participation, the value of volunteer outputs, and the wider social benefits of volunteering will be discussed.

A number of nature conservation organisations that involve volunteers have recently changed their outlook to place people at the centre of their mission. Such moves have been welcomed by many and resisted by others. This paper will conclude by asking whether an improved understanding of the place of people in relation to nature can help to address some of the current expert-lay issues facing volunteering in nature conservation.

This paper has been informed by research completed as part of a literature review into volunteering in the natural outdoors on behalf of the Countryside Recreation Network during 2007.

Nick’s paper is available here (Word).

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