Our volunteering story today comes from David Manifold, a volunteer community ranger at Dunsland.
“My wife Jill and I have been supporters of the National Trust for many years and when I was offered the chance to help out at my local property, Dunsland, near Holsworthy, I jumped at the opportunity. The site covers about 92 acres of mixed woodland and grassland and there had been a house there for at least a thousand years and it was mentioned in the Domesday Book. The Trust bought the house in 1954 and spent many years restoring it. In 1967, just three days after the official opening, the house caught fire and was totally destroyed. The damage was so bad that it was decided to demolish what was left and now the only trace is some old garden walls and the coachhouse and stables which were unscathed in the inferno.
Before taking up my post as local community Volunteer Ranger, I and two other new volunteers from other properties were invited to our Ranger H.Q at Brownsham. Ranger Luke Johns was on hand to welcome us and show us around the site, we were given a run-down of the Trust’s aims and the type of work the Rangers are responsible for. He explained the importance of the volunteers, stressing that without us, the Trust would not be able to function in its present form. After tea and coffee, we climbed into the Land Rover to be taken on a tour of some of the properties that Brownsham is responsible for, these included some of the coastal paths, some woodland areas, and we also had a look at the artist’s cabin at Bucks Mills etc.
We were issued with our fleeces and t-shirts, a pair of work gloves and other bits and bobs, a roll of rubbish bags, (of course), a folder with leaflets and info together with some health and safety stuff and finally a good dollop of enthusiasm. I must say that I for one was impressed by Luke’s own enthusiasm for his job and the aims and goals that the Rangers set themselves.
My role at Dunsland is to walk the property on a regular basis, usually once a week or fortnight, and to make sure that all is well and as it should be. I collect any rubbish that may have been dropped or occasionally dumped in the carpark. About half of the land is pasture and is let out to two local farmers for grazing and I keep an eye on the fences and make sure that the gates are ok. The farmers are local long-term tenants, so should a problem arise that might affect them, I can give them a call.
I always make an effort to walk the grounds after a storm to make sure that the trees have survived, some of the wonderful chestnut trees are believed to be over 600 years old. There are also some magnificent oaks and I often find myself wondering about what these old trees must have witnessed. There are the remains of the old walled garden, most of it has tumbled down and the surrounding woodland has reclaimed the once cultivated ground. The Trust has planted out a new fruit orchard with about fifty trees with many old varieties of apple and pear etc. Each season, the trees in the orchard are pruned and mulched and this is one of the tasks that we volunteers can help with. Another job is hedgelaying, or steeping as it’s called locally, the Trust offer courses at Dunsland for these activities and I always like to be on hand to help out and take part along with a few others volunteers who come from our local wildlife group.
It’s alway good to learn a new skill, or brush up on an old one, I’ve always spent as much time as possible outdoors in the countryside and the old rural skills such as hedging and ditching, stone walling and fencing are still in great demand at properties like Dunsland. I like to think that our efforts in helping to preserve these wonderful places that have endured for centuries will give the next generation the opportunity to enjoy them as much as we do now.
The beauty of the volunteer system that the National Trust operate is that retired people like myself can help out or get involved in almost any way that suits them. I’m an active seventy three year old and the Brownsham Rangers, Gregg, Luke and Justin always make sure that myself and all of our volunteers, young and old or whatever, feel valued and appreciated, we are always told to work at our own pace and they make a point of thanking everyone for their efforts.”