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Mencap and RSPB pilot new volunteer scheme
Wednesday 10 December 2008
Volunteers with learning disabilities have got stuck in to essential wildlife conservation work in Surrey as part of a new pilot scheme between the RSPB and Mencap.
The volunteers, a group of men in their early 20s, came to RSPB Farnham Heath to carry out habitat management work. This will help declining heathland species such as Dartford warblers, nightjars, woodlarks and sand lizards flourish again in Surrey.
This is the first time a volunteering project of this kind has been trialled by the organisations in the South East.
People with a learning disability are the most excluded group of disabled people from the UK work force. Only 17 per cent are in paid employment, compared to around half of disabled people as a whole [see notes].
Mencap's Volunteer Development Manager, Carol Service, said this scheme would help raise awareness about the contribution young people with a learning disability can make through volunteering.
She said: "We believe in volunteering for all. Although we know there are a lot of barriers, we know that people with a learning disability can be excellent volunteers. This scheme helps us work together and open up opportunities by partnering with volunteer organisations like the RSPB."
RSPB Farnham Heath is part of what was once a much larger area of Surrey heathland, one of the world's rarest habitats, most of which has been lost to development or commercial forestry.
Since buying the reserve in 2002, the conservation charity has been working to restore the ancient heath, to attract rare species such as woodlarks, tree pipits, nightjars and sand lizards back to the area.
Mike Coates, RSPB Farnham Heath project manager, said: "The work at Farnham Heath is really coming along, and we are already seeing a good range of wildlife, but it's a major restoration project that requires a lot of hands-on effort.
"We run regular volunteer work parties here, but this scheme has opened my eyes to the potential that is out there through organisations such as Mencap. It's been a win-win situation - we've got some important jobs done, and these young volunteers have got stuck into some really satisfying work that will benefit local wildlife and people for years to come."
Part of the pilot scheme involved a learning disability awareness morning for RSPB staff run by Mencap, discussing the nature of learning disabilities and the barriers people with them face throughout their lives.
Both organisations are now looking at running similar work parties elsewhere in the South East.