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


Type: Response Indicator



Figure A2i.  Index of volunteer time spent in selected UK conservation organisations, 2000 to 2013.

 biyp2014 A2


  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. Interpolated estimates (based on trends reported by other organisations) have been used to fill missing years for the Canal & River Trust (formerly British Waterways) (2000–2009), Butterfly Conservation (2000–2002), The Conservation Volunteers (2000–2005), Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority (2000–2001, 2003), National Parks England (2000–2008), Natural England (2000, 2002), Plantlife (2000–2006), The Wildlife Trusts (2000–2005, 2010 and 2013), and the Woodland Trust (2000–2001).
  3. Data provided by the The Conservation Volunteers, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority, Natural England, the Canal & River Trust (formerly British Waterways), National Parks England, and RSPB were for financial years rather than calendar years.  Financial year data have been assigned to the first calendar year (e.g. 2011/12 data were allocated to 2011).

Source: Bat Conservation Trust, Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, British Trust for Ornithology, Butterfly Conservation, Canal & River Trust (formerly British Waterways), The Conservation Volunteers, Loch Lomond and 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

indicator declining

No change (2013)


  • The amount of time people spend volunteering to assist in conservation in part reflects society’s interest in and commitment to biodiversity.  The work undertaken by conservation volunteers includes: assisting with countryside management, carrying out surveys and inputting data, assisting with administrative tasks, and fundraising.
  • Between 2000 and 2013 the amount of time contributed by volunteers has increased by 34 per cent, but in the five years to 2013 it decreased by 4 per cent.
  • Owing to a need to impute missing values for organisations that did not provide data for all years, the data series has been revised since the last publication in 2013.


Indicator description

The 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.  

There has been a substantial increase in volunteer activity between 2000 and 2013.  The assessment is based on a three-year average from the baseline, using the three earliest consecutive years available. However, between 2008 and 2013 the indicator has declined by 4 per cent; there has been a decrease in volunteer hours from the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT), Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), and The Wildlife Trusts (WT) over this time period.

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 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, BCT, the RSPB and the BTO.  The TCV figures showed a 26 per cent decrease in volunteering numbers from their peak in 2010 to 2012.  This reduction is possibly a response to changes in public expenditure on partnership initiatives, although there has been a concurrent increase in the number of community groups affiliated to TCV, suggesting a possible change in volunteer behaviour (the data from these groups is not included in the indicator as the number and activity of volunteers within these groups is not known).  The Greenspace programme, run in partnership with the Green Flag scheme, has also ended, and this has led to a decrease in volunteering hours.



Volunteer time is one way of assessing the level of public engagement with biodiversity.  Volunteering for conservation charities is critical to the successful delivery of many of the objectives of the country biodiversity and environment strategies – for example, volunteers collect much of the data used for monitoring the status of species and also undertake practical work to manage threatened habitats.



The indicator is based on data on volunteer hours supplied by 13 UK conservation charities and public bodies:

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

National Park data for England is now collected through the National Parks England Head Office, rather than by contacting individual National Parks directly.


Table A2i provides information on whether the organisations contributing to the indicator provided data for the whole or part of the United Kingdom or Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales). 


Table A2i.  Organisations contributing data to the indicator.

Providing UK- or GB-wide data

Providing data for part of the UK 

Bat Conservation Trust

Loch Lomond and The Trossochs National Park Authority

Canal & River Trust (formerly British Waterways)

Natural England

Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland

National Parks England

The Conservation Volunteers


British Trust for Ornithology


Butterfly Conservation






The Wildlife Trusts


Woodland Trust



Some organisations were able to provide accurate figures for number of hours worked, others provided estimates based on the number of volunteers and an estimate of average days worked by their volunteers each year.

Data were not available for all organisations in all years.  In previous years, the indicator has omitted organisations without a full run of data because if included, some years had more organisations contributing than others – artificially inflating the figures in those years.  For the current indicator, all missing values have been estimated by Defra statisticians, by interpolating from the figures provided.  These estimates were based on (a) the trend in the data provided by the organisation with a gap in their records, and (b) the trend in the data provided by other organisations for the missing years.  This has led to a slight revision of the data series since 2012. 

In broad terms, the type of work undertaken by volunteers falls into four categories: countryside management; surveys and data input; administrative and office support; and ‘other conservation volunteering’, which includes activities such as fundraising, training and educational events.  Not every NGO provides the breakdown of volunteering hours shown in Figure A2ii, and therefore the trends shown in this figure are different from the overall assessment in Figure A2i.  Work in all four categories has risen between 2000 and 2012, and there continues to be an increase in survey and data input as well as ‘other’ types of conservation work (Figure A2ii).  The index for administrative or office support has dropped in the latest year; this is largely due to the Bird Atlas project, run by the British Trust of Ornithology, ending in 2012.  Due to differences in data quality and incomplete data series from many of the organisations included in the indicator, the numbers of volunteer hours for the four categories were converted to separate indices prior to combining them into one overall index.  The indicator therefore shows the change in relative rather than absolute number of hours worked by volunteers.


Figure A2ii.  Index of volunteer time spent in selected UK conservation organisations, shown by category of work, 2000 to 2013.

biyp2014 A2 Taking action for nature


  1. Interpolated data have been used to fill missing years for Butterfly Conservation (2000–2002), Natural England (2000, 2002), Plantlife (2000–2006), The Wildlife Trusts (2000–2005, 2010), and the Woodland Trust (2000–2001).
  2. The indicator has expanded in scope over time; this means the current indicator is not comparable with earlier publications.

Source: Bat Conservation Trust, Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, British Trust for Ornithology, Butterfly Conservation, Natural England, Plantlife, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust.


Goals and targets

Aichi Targets for which this is a primary indicator

Strategic Goal A. Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society.

Aichi icon 1Target 1: By 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to     conserve and use it sustainably.


Aichi Targets for which this is a relevant indicator



Web links for further information




Bat Conservation Trust (BCT)

Home page


Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI)

Home page


Canal & River Trust (formerly British Waterways)

Home page


Association of Inland Navigation Authorites

Quantifying the extent and value of volunteering in relation to inland waterways


(PDF, 508kb)

The Conservation Volunteers


Home Page


British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)

Home page


Butterfly Conservation

Home page



Home page


Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority

Home page


Natural England

Home page



Home page


The Wildlife Trusts

Home page


Woodland Trust

Home page


National Parks England

Home page




Download Datasheet


Last updated: December 2014

Latest data available: 2013