Staff blog: Trust Member recognised as 'Volunteer of the Year'

Membership Manager Emma Cessford catches up with award-winning work party volunteer and Trust stalwart James Brownhill

James brownhill at glen tanar jan 2017 web detail

After seven years as a super-active member of the John Muir Trust in the north east of Scotland, James Brownhill visited our Pitlochry HQ for the first time last week. He dropped in on his way to Perth to pick up his Volunteer of the Year Award - Cairngorms National Park from The Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland.

Over celebratory tea and cakes in Tower House, I heard that he was ‘really chuffed’ to be recognised for his years of organising and taking part in conservation work parties for the Trust and other organisations.

“I’m over the moon – I never expected anything and it feels odd to be awarded for doing something that you really enjoy doing!" said James.

He told me he first got interested in conservation work parties when he joined the John Muir Trust in 2009: "I quite liked the idea of getting my hands dirty … so I arranged to go on one of Sandy Maxwell’s [volunteer co-ordinator for the Trust] footpath work parties on Schiehallion. Unfortunately a bad winter delayed our first outing by four weeks, but when we did get out I was hooked. By the end of that year I was organising my own work parties in North East Scotland.

 “The answer to why I have been recognised for volunteering now is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle… I was one of the first people to submit a report for the ‘Adopt a Path’ scheme which was developed by Dougie Baird for the Cairngorms National Park Authority. It’s a scheme where you walk a path once a year, inspect it and report back to provide experts with the information needed to decide if the path requires a repair. The project covers not just the monitoring of the footpaths and repairing them, but also getting people out, a little bit John Muir - the man - style!

“I volunteer a couple of days a month* between the Cairngorms National Park and the work parties that I organise for the John Muir Trust. There are plenty of other worthy people who volunteer their time and energy. For example I once worked out that, with other volunteers, we have collectively given over 900 hours of our time in the Cairngorms National Park Authority this year alone.

“One of my favourite sites is in Glen Nevis, because of the beautiful scenery and the footpath repair work we do there. It’s quite a popular path so in some areas, where water crosses the path, it becomes braided, boggy, squishy and unsightly. You’ve got all the materials you need from the hillside to construct a line where you want people to walk, so you can sort out the drainage and leave it be.

“It’s great to go back a couple of years later and see that all the scarred bits are growing back. Everyone who has been walking there has stuck to your path rather than wandering off and destroying all the vegetation and wildlife. You realise – wow it’s worked and it’s probably going to work for the next 10 – 20 years!”

“I crudely put it that professionally as a meterologist I used to predict the weather 3 days ahead and now I protect the environment for decades ahead.”

With the award under his belt for 2017 there is little doubt that James will be out many more times in 2018 monitoring and fixing paths somewhere in Scotland and I'm already looking forward to hearing all about it.

* James modestly skipped over all the additional hours he puts into organising and timetabling the work parties as well as helping to run two local members’ gatherings for the north east of Scotland in Aberdeen, each year, by arranging a programme of speakers in spring and autumn.