A day in the life of a volunteer
By Gareth Owen
Volunteering for the Snowdonia Society or Cymdeithas Eryri in Welsh covering the area of Eryri, has meant many days spent either out in the wild countryside or working on the gardens of the Ugly House, Tŷ Hyll in Welsh, just outside Betws y Coed. I have learned many skills from planting trees and hedgerows in Dinas Mawddwy, to sowing wildflower seeds in Coed Ysgubor Wen outside Llanegryn. I have really enjoyed learning how a lay a hedge on a farm high above Dinas Mawddwy, and cutting gorse to uncover ancient burial grounds and feeding ground for chough, high up on the mountainside above Abergwyngregyn. But my all-time favourite activity has been working on the gardens at Tŷ Hyll.
These experiences are an ocean away from my previous job of Train Driver, in which I drove all over the country from Inverness to Bristol before retiring in 2019. Then covid hit, and everything stopped for nearly two years. I just wanted to find something I could do to give back to the countryside and nature. After finding the Snowdonia Society online, I applied to be a volunteer, got accepted, and have never looked back.
On my day volunteering at Tŷ Hyll, I turned up and really did not know what to expect. I was met by Mary, the Snowdonia Society Conservation Officer who looks after Tŷ Hyll, and introduced myself. Mary was brilliant and made me welcome and comfortable straight away. When the other volunteers turned up, a big welcome was given to everyone, and Mary set out the tasks for the day.
After a full briefing on how to use the tools safely, I volunteered to clear the ivy off the car park walls and clear debris to enable the water to drain effectively. One of the first things that struck me was Mary’s knowledge of the plants. We learned about Aluminium Archangel, which is an invasive plant, and if found to be put in a dedicated container.
So off I went armed with loppers, rake and a wheelbarrow. It was like a breath of fresh air, being out in open air enjoying what I was doing, and there were also opportunities to have breaks for chats and updates.
We had lunch sitting on a bench in the garden, getting to know each other and chatting about our previous jobs and present. Mary went through the upcoming tasks at the garden which made me even more committed to the volunteering.
Then back to our tasks: We aimed to finish at three, as this was still January and day light was short. After I had finished, Mary came and thanked me for what I had achieved, and it made me really proud.
Since that day, I have been back twice, and have worked on clearing the footpaths, making them safe for people to walk on to enjoy the gardens and woodland, while others have cleared weeds from the gardens.
On my most recent time volunteering at Tŷ Hyll, we were with Conservation Officer Alf, who taught us how to make a dead hedge barrier. It was brilliant because we used fallen branches, twigs which were staked, and with branches woven into it. It looked stunning and made us all proud.
I’m looking forward to my next time there, meeting up with all my volunteering friends which now have become a family from all walks of life.
Snowdonia Society / Cymdeithas Eryri Volunteer.