Getting involved with conservation and volunteering

Getting involved with conservation and volunteering can be a great way of learning about the world around us, as well as getting to meet like-minded people and benefiting from their experience. But where do you start? Knowing where to get started is the stepping stone to so many opportunities, so, following on from our article about the Zoological Society of London eel monitoring in the Thames we started looking around to see what other opportunities there are for people to get involved in a bit of hands-on conservation.

We’ve brought together a few ideas, links and information to help give people an idea of what sort of things are out there and how you can get involved too.  We’ve mainly looked for things that involve aquatics in some form, but there’s also some more general information.

Anyone can get involved in almost any of the things we’ve found, some do require specialist knowledge or skills but others can be done by absolutely anyone. Don’t worry if you think you don’t have time for any of this, getting involved in conservation can be as simple as just reporting pollution. Some require a certain time commitment, but others can be totally ad hoc, and some can be done just by going for a walk with your smartphoneKeeping an eye on your local environment is just as valuable an activity as signing up for a long term commitment.

There’s some ideas for children too; it’s great to be able to get them involved in hands-on things where they can get up close with nature and maybe find a bit of inspiration that will stick with them throughout their lives.

We intend this to be a ‘work in progress’ and we’ll keep on adding to it as we come across new information. It’s not an exhaustive list of everything that’s going on, but even if you don’t find something here you might well find something similar, or more appealing, once you’ve got an idea of the sort of activities happening across the UK and internationally. Admittedly quite a few things listed are in the south of England, but that’s where most of Team INJAF live so we’re more familiar with things in this area! We have tried to find things further afield! You can always use the things we’ve found to give you ideas of what to look for in your area.

Getting involved with something will also bring you into contact with like-minded people and will give you the opportunity for making lots of contacts and finding out about more and different things you can do. Other people are a valuable resource; talking to them and spending time with enthusiastic, knowledgeable and dedicated people will help you learn all sorts of things and open doors to things you probably hadn’t considered before. It can also give you something very useful to put on your CV.

Don’t forget that many of these organisations are also on Facebook and Twitter so you can ‘like’ and ‘follow’ them to keep up to date with news and events.

Quite a few things are seasonal so it’s worth keeping any eye on any places or things that interest you as there are likely to be various events being organised to match the season and the wildlife that are going to be out and about. The BBC sites for example list seasonal ideas and activities.  If you’re going on holiday, it’s well worth having at look at what’s going on at your destination.

If you’re involved in anything you’d like us to include, or if you find anything you think we should include please do let us know by emailing us at  We’re always happy to hear from people overseas as well, we might be based in the UK but the internet is international and we’d love to be able to add some overseas projects/activities too.

UK: Public aquariums, zoos, and wildlife parks

Zoological Society of London (ZSL)
ZSL has all sorts of things to get involved with not just aquatics, so you may find other things of interest here too.  They have projects happening in various locations, not just in London, hence we’ve included ZSL in this section rather than the regional section.  They do a lot of Citizen Science activities and it was through a ZSL project that the idea for this whole article took shape.  ZSL say “The problems facing wildlife affect all of us, so ZSL has collaborated with a number of organisations to create conservation programmes that you, the public, can also get stuck into! From spotting wildlife in the garden to full on citizen science projects, we ask the general public to engage with the world of conservation. Have a look at the current projects (on the get involved page), and see how you can help by donating, recording observations, pledging your support, or just finding out about our work.”

Their youtube video features some of their volunteers explaining what they do and why they enjoy it:



British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA)
BIAZA have a list of zoos and aquariums that offer work experience and volunteering opportunities. You can also check individual BIAZA member websites for further information (these are listed on the BIAZA site).

Sea Life Centres
This site covers all the UK Sea Life Centres so you can choose the one you are interested in for further details. The link given here has various information and an email address at the bottom of the page for more information on getting involved in their conservation activities.

Wildfowl and Wetlands Trusts
The WWT has various sites in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Select the one you are interested in for further information.  For example, the London centre in Barnes has information on volunteering as well as ‘how you can help’ which gives more general information on things to you can do to help with conservation.

UK: Conservation Organisations

Canal and River Trust
This is a UK wide organisation dedicated to protecting canals and rivers for future generations.  We’ve picked out a few examples of things you do and get involved with:
Use your eyes and iPhone to protect waterway habitats
Get involved
Great Nature Watch – free apps to help you take part
Free ‘places to visit’ app for download

The Rivers Trust
This is the umbrella organisation for all the many and varied river trusts operating throughout the UK. The main aim is “to co-ordinate, represent and develop the aims and interests of the member Trusts in the promotion of sustainable, holistic and integrated catchment management and sound environmental practices, recognising the wider economic benefits for local communities and the value of education.”  As well as the map on the homepage, they have a list of all the rivers trusts in the UK.  We’ve picked out a few at random in the regional section below to give you an idea of the sort of things they cover. If your area isn’t one of the ones we’ve used as examples check the main website to find one near you.  If there isn’t one near you, and you’d like to set one up, there is a page with more information on how you can go about doing so.  There a vast amount of information on the site so it’s well worth having a look through the various pages.

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
This might seem a strange one to include in an article about aquatics, but the RSPB has a huge amount of aquatic environment on its land as it maintains many areas for wading birds and waterfowl, as well as seabirds. The aquatic environment is very important to the RSPB and there are things you can do to help out in this area.  They have a section on volunteering so check it out to see what’s happening near you.

The National Trust
Again, this might sound a little odd; most people tend to think of stately homes and the like when they think of the National Trust. However, the National Trust also maintains large areas of countryside and the associated aquatic environments so it’s well worth finding out what’s going on near you.  The section on volunteering will give you some ideas about what you can do.

The Bat Conservation Trust
The BCT has a get involved page. Another one that doesn’t immediately make you think of aquatics but certain species, such as the Daubenton’s bat, rely on waterways for the insects they eat so bat groups often get involved in aquatic conservation as part of their work with bats.

The Wildlife Trusts
This is the main website, there are also local Trusts across the UK and you can find your local one on the main site. The Wildlife Trusts offer a myriad of opportunities for getting involved, from surveys in your own garden to more hands-on activities. Have a look at the ‘how you can help’ page for more details.

National Parks UK
This site has lots of useful links and information about volunteering in the UK’s national parks, as well as some links to other ideas.

The Royal Parks
The Royal Parks have plenty of rivers and lakes on their land and have lots of ideas for getting involved and volunteering.

Marine Conservation Society
This is the website for the UK charity for the protection of our seas, shores and wildlife. Have a look at the ‘get involved’ link for more information on what you can do.  Check out the MCS website and facebook page for details of what’s on and when.  Beach cleans are popular events with lots of people coming together for a good social as well as to help clean up.  The MCS also runs the basking shark watch and you can report sightings of them, and various other creatures through the MCS website Report your sightings page.

Sea Watch Foundation
“Sea Watch is a national marine environmental charity working to improve the conservation of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the seas around Britain and Ireland”. There are a number of ways you can get involved, from simply reporting sightings and strandings to becoming a regular observer.

The Conservation Volunteers
This is a great resource for those interested in conservation volunteering in all sorts of disciplines and areas and covers the whole of the UK and Northern Ireland.

Freshwater Habitats Trust
“Water is the driving force of all nature, but freshwater and wetlands, and the species they support are amongst the most threatened part of the natural world”. This site also runs the Big Pond Dip where you can see what’s living in your pond and report back on your findings.  The charity has also launched the Million Ponds Project and was featured on the BBC news on 21st August 2013.  They have a page dedicated to getting involved which gives much more information.

The Wild Trout Trust
“The Wild Trout Trust stimulates hands-on, in-the-water projects, helping others to help themselves with habitat improvement in and around rivers and lakes”. They have various activities going on across the UK (not all involving trout!) and their website gives details.

Surfers Against Sewage
The brilliantly named Surfers Against Sewage is “an environmental charity protecting UK waves, oceans and beaches”.  They have many ways you can get involved and take action with them. This can be as simple as just reporting pollution or helping out with a litter pick/beach clean.  If you’re going on holiday to the seaside you can report any pollution you see, as well as reporting any illness/sickness that may have been caused by exposure to polluted waters.

Be Plant Wise
“The Be Plant Wise campaign, launched by Defra and the Scottish Government, is designed to raise awareness among gardeners, pond owners and retailers of the damage caused by invasive aquatic plants and to encourage the public to dispose of these plants correctly. The Horticultural Trade Association, Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association, Royal Horticultural Society, and wild plant conservation charity Plantlife are all supporting the campaign.”  There is further information on the site about how retailers and gardeners/pond owners can help.

“The PlantTracker project is a collaboration between the Environment Agency, the NatureLocator team at the University of Bristol and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.”  PlantTracker’s main aim is “to locate incidences of a number of high priority invasive plant species”.  They’ve created a smartphone app for anyone to download and the crowdsourced information will be used to help the group build a better picture of the current situation with invasive plant species.  This is another example of citizen science working to enable a greater understanding of environmental issues.  Go to the website for more information and to download the app for iPhone or Android.  If you don’t have a smartphone but would still like to report sightings of invasive plant species you can do so via the website: report a sighting.

The Big Butterfly Count
The Big Butterfly Count runs annually from 19th July to 10th August. You can download identification charts and submit your findings online or via a free app available via the site.  Butterflies are a good indicator or biodiversity, so keeping track of changes in their populations helps identify potential threats to them, and to the wider wildlife population.

UK: Animal Rescue

British Divers Marine Life Rescue
Contrary to what you might think from the title you don’t need to be a diver to get involved with this. The BDMLR say “All you need is a positive attitude, don’t mind being wet and cold, and are able-bodied”. They provide training, which you do have to pay for, but the cost is very reasonable considering what you’ll get out of it.

Wildlife Aid
While this isn’t strictly speaking an aquatics organisation they do get involved with the watery side of life with waterfowl, aquatic mammals etc.

UK: General
This site provides a searchable database of volunteering opportunities in a wide variety of areas and locations.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)
The RNLI has various means for people to get involved. While the RNLI is more to do with rescuing people it’s important to remember that people and water are not always a match made in heaven. Humans are not terrifically aquatic mammals and often fall into difficulty when working and playing on the water.  The RNLI does fantastic work from a huge network of volunteers and needs people with a good awareness of water and a good understanding of the aquatic environment to help them continue their work.

The Springwatch and Autumnwatch websites have loads of links, information and ideas for all sorts of things. There’s various free guides you can download and lots of information on easy to do activities like reporting sightings of things and surveys you can take part in and report your findings.

The BBC’s Countryfile site has some information about how to get involved and volunteer.  There’s no specific page that we could find but if you enter ‘volunteer’ into the search it brings up a variety of results including this one about 30 feel good ways to volunteer in the countryside.

The BBC main site also has a section about nature and wildlifehow to work with wildlife with more information about getting involved as well as activities you can do. They also have a section on Citizen Science and how to help wildlife which has lots of information about Citizen Science activities you can easily get involved with (some from the comfort of your own home!).  All these sites are full of information about things you can do to get involved so have a read through them all to see if you can find something that suits you.

The Environment Agency (EA)
The EA looks after the health of the aquatic environment and you can report problems etc. to them such as where they rescued thousands of fish struggling with the heatwave.

Project Dirt
This site advertises community projects/activities on an environmental theme in London and beyond, have a nosey through their site for things in your area that look interesting.

Nature’s Calendar
This site uses Citizen Science to document the seasons, and what they bring, throughout the UK.  By recording this information a picture can be built which shows changes, patterns and trends.  Nature’s Calendar has this to say “Nature’s Calendar is the home for thousands of volunteers who record the signs of the seasons where they live.  It could mean noting the first ladybird or swallow seen in your garden in spring, or the first blackberry in your local wood in autumn. You don’t have to be an expert to take part.  Lots of help is given, including a free downloadable nature identification booklet.  This kind of recording has moved from being a leisure hobby to a crucial source of evidence as to how our wildlife is responding to climate change.”  Find out more about how to get started.

The National Biodiversity Network
This site offers you the chance to submit wildlife sightings and has various tools and information available.

Association of Local Environmental Records Centres
“Formed in 2009, ALERC is an association between Local Environmental Records Centres (LRCs) in Great Britain.  The Association aims to provide a central voice for the views and concerns of the Records Centre community, whilst building a support-based network of knowledge and advice to meet the needs of its members … What is an LRC?  Local Records Centres (LRCs) are organisations that collect, collate, manage and disseminate information relating to the biodiversity and geodiversity of a region on a not-for-profit basis. This information plays an essential role in decision-making at all levels, and its use helps to protect and improve biodiversity and geodiversity within the region and beyond.”  You can use the map to find your local one.

Universities and colleges – many universities, and some colleges, have biodiversity groups which involve the wider community in various activities. For example, Kingston University has a biodiversity group which has a blog and newsletter that you can sign up to for information on activities and opportunities.  Check out your local one and look for things about biodiversity, green spaces, conservation etc. Universities often have a lot of land and even urban ones like Kingston have large areas of land which need careful management. Universities like to be part of their wider community so there is often a significant effort made to do things that the public can get involved with.

Local councils – many local councils have sections on their websites for local interest groups so it’s always worth looking at your local council’s site to see what’s going on in your area.

England: Conservation organisations

Natural England
“Natural England is the government’s advisor on the natural environment. We provide practical advice, grounded in science, on how best to safeguard England’s natural wealth for the benefit of everyone.”  They also have lots of ways that you can get involved with their work and a programme of events and activities.

England – Regional: Public Aquariums and Zoos

Bristol Zoo Gardens
Bristol Zoo Gardens includes a popular aquarium display and has lots of ideas about getting involved, as well as information on how you can help and volunteering.

The Deep
Based in Hull, The Deep have various research and conservation activities on the go, you can contact them by email through the website, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter for more information.

Blue Planet
The Blue Planet is in Cheshire  and runs the ‘Blue Watch’ which “is a voluntary group of like minded individuals, drawn together by their shared love of the oceans and marine life and a desire to promote and execute direct and positive action concerning the protection, maintenance and restoration of marine organisms and ecosystems”.  You can find out more from their conservation page.

National Marine Aquarium
This is in Plymouth and has lots of information on conservation and how you can help.
The Splash Mob is open to people aged 16 and over and involves a multitude of brilliant opportunities for getting involved.

Living Coasts
Located in Torquay, Living Coasts has a variety of things you can get involved with, for example Aquarium Support Workers.  They offer training for successful applicants so if you’re interested it could be a great opportunity to gain new skills and add to your CV.

The Horniman Museum
Perhaps not one of the best known London museums but nonetheless a bit of a gem, this has an aquarium which often comes as a surprise as most people don’t expect to find one in a museum! It also has a page about getting involved with their activities.

England – Regional: General

Ribble Rivers Trust
This is based in Lancashire and you can get involved in habitat restoration and more surveys than you can shake a stick at!

The Wandle Trust
“Founded in 2000, we’re an environmental charity dedicated to restoring and maintaining the health of South London’s River Wandle and its catchment” The Wandle Trust does regular river cleanups and conservation activities for volunteers. The website has recently moved to become the South East Rivers Trust, although both sites are currently running.

The River Thames Society
“The RTS is the guardian of the river, constantly alert to developments that might damage this resource or reduce public access. The streams,reed beds, lakes, water meadows, old buildings and riverside trees need protection, which is achieved by raising the widest appreciation of their beauty”. They run activities like ‘Tidy up the Thames’ so have a look to see how you can get involved.

West Cumbria Rivers Trust
“West Cumbria Rivers Trust (WCRT) is part of the national network of river trusts which have played an ever increasing role in delivering environmental improvements throughout the country … There is plenty to do from surveying rivers for invasive species to helping out at events and developing promotional material.  Volunteering with West Cumbria Rivers Trust is a great way to learn about our work and enjoy the local countryside while doing your bit for the environment”.  You can find out more about getting involved here.

Don’t forget that there are lots of other Rivers Trusts, the ones above are a few we picked at random as examples.

Thames Anglers Conservancy (TAC)
TAC is “a group of anglers who want to protect the River Thames from the many challenges the river faces and improve it for the future”. They are free to join and free to get involved so check out their website for more information.

The Environment Trust for Richmond Upon Thames
This site has a conservation volunteer events calendar and often does activities such as river walks.

The London Natural History Society
This London based organisation runs lots of different activities and projects and is keen to get members of the public involved in surveys and such like; “London’s biodiversity faces new challenges from climate change and development pressure. You can contribute to the conservation of wildlife in the London area by helping to record the changing fortunes of the many species that live here. Together with our historic records, this information will help us to tackle the conservation issues of the future.”

Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service
“Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service (NBIS) is a Local Record Centre holding information onspeciesgeodiversityhabitats and protected sites for the whole of the county of Norfolk. NBIS is a member of the Association of Local Environmental Records Centres and operates within the guidelines of the National Biodiversity Network. NBIS functions with guidance from a Steering Group, serving the need for environmental information in Norfolk through the collection, collation, assessment and interpretation of high quality data.”  They run lots of surveys that you can help out with.  They have lots of links to other pages, and downloads with more information.


Citizen Science in Scotland
“One way you can get involved with Scotland’s environment is to help collect data and information through the many ’citizen science’ projects that are running in Scotland”.  Have a look at their website for things near you that you can get involved with.

Scottish Waterways Trust
“With your help we want to connect people with the heritage, wildlife and green, open spaces of our canals, so that we can transform lives and inspire communities across Scotland, for generations to come”. This site has lots of great ideas about volunteering and getting involved in the various things they do. They say “We urgently need your help to transform people’s lives through the power of our canals – and to protect our precious canals and waterways for generations to come”.

Scottish Canals
“People make the canals what they are and there are all sorts of opportunities to get involved (on both land and water – no previous experience is required!!). We work hand in hand with Scottish Waterways Trust to make things happen, working with The Lowland Canals Volunteer Group and the Caledonian Canal Heritage Officer. Why don’t you help make a big difference in your local community and sign-up to be a volunteer?”. They have lots of links to other sites that need your help too, and you can sign up to be a volunteer with them.

Scottish Natural Heritage
The Scottish Natural Heritage site has plenty of information about volunteering, groups, activities and events.

Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS)
RAFTS is “a leading independent freshwater conservation charity representing Scotland’s national network of rivers and fisheries Trusts and Foundations”.  It represents twenty-five member trusts and foundations across Scotland so it’s likely there may be something close to you to get involved and volunteer with.  RAFTS is very enthusiastic about its volunteers and says “Volunteers come from all walks of life.  Whether you are young or old, an angler, amateur naturalist, conservationist or indeed interested in any way with the well-being of our native fish and their habitats, there is scope for you to get involved as there are a range of activities that might be available.  There may even be training available to help you to help us.”  RAFTS also has lots of links to other organisations that you may be interested in getting involved with.

Scotland’s Environment – Project Finder
The website says “Get Involved with understanding and improving Scotland’s environment. You can help to collect the data and information that will improve our understanding of Scotland’s environment by taking part in one of the many ‘citizen science’ projects that are running in Scotland. For example you could record sightings of animals and plants, observe local weather patterns, or help to monitor the quality of the air, land and water in your local area. Or you can get involved in ‘citizen action’ projects that help to improve our environment, such as removing litter from your local beach, making your garden more wildlife friendly, or promoting safe routes for walking and cycling to school or work.

Just click on the ‘Search Projects’ button to explore the wide range of projects on offer and find ones that you want to take part in.

If you are an organisation that runs citizen science or action projects, you can register a profile of your organisation and add details of projects that you want people to volunteer for.

You can also get help with setting up your own citizen science and action projects by using the interactive toolkit which contains good practice guidance, help for teachers and IT tools.”


Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre
This one has a vast amount of things you can get involved with from helping out with web design to hands-on fieldwork.

Natural Resources Wales
This site has a section where you can report things of concern from pollution to wildlife crime.  There are also various aquatic specific things the organisation would like reports of such as poaching or illegal fishing, fish in distress or dead fish, watercourse blocked by vehicle or fallen tree causing risk of flooding, illegal abstraction from watercourses, unusual drop in river flow or collapsed or badly damaged river or canal banks.

Northern Ireland

Exploris Aquarium
The Exploris Aquarium has lots of useful links on their site which might give you a few ideas about things to do.


The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has information about volunteering with them and getting involved in their work .

The IUCN has also launched an iPhone app to gather crowdsourced information about seahorses.  The IUCN says “With iSeahorse Explore, anyone, anywhere in the world can become a citizen scientist and contribute to marine conservation with a few taps of their phone. The iPhone app is designed for people to quickly log seahorse sightings whenever they encounter an animal in the wild”.  Many seahorse species are classed as ‘data deficient’ by the IUCN which means they can’t as yet allocate them an IUCN status or assess them as endangered or otherwise.  Gathering crowdsourced information will be an important part of the IUCN’s continuing work with these species.  Go to the IUCN website to download the app and read more about it.

Freshwater Fish Specialist Group (part of the IUCN)
The group is running the Global Freshwater Fish BioBlitz: “The Global Freshwater Fish BioBlitz, a citizen science project, kicks off on World Wetlands Day 2014 to engage nature lovers in freshwater fish conservation. People from around the world, whether they are anglers, photographers, students or enthusiastic naturalists, are invited to record their observations of freshwater fishes in their natural habitat. Photographs, along with details of where and when they saw the fish, can be uploaded to the iNaturalist project below.

Volunteers with expertise in fish taxonomy serve as Curators to identify and verify the species. The information has the potential to assist scientists to describe new species, help assess the risk of extinction for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and can be exported to freely accessible online data archives, such as Encyclopedia of Life.”

There’s also more information here courtesy of Seriously Fish – Can you help the freshwater fish bioblitz?

Please note

These are not personal recommendations as we haven’t tried each and every one of them, but hopefully they will be useful to you.  If you do try any of them we’d love to hear how you got on and what you got up to,

Safety and water

Whatever you do, please remember to be extremely careful around bodies of water. Lakes and rivers might not look perilous but many have powerful currents and low temperatures (even in summer) and can easily get people into difficulties. Never go into a river etc. alone, and do make sure that you check the safety of any area of water you are going into beforehand by contacting a local expert or specialist group for advice and guidance. Always ensure that you know where safety devices like life rings are located and take a mobile phone with you in case of emergency. This might sound ‘boring’ but no one really wants the ‘excitement’ of having the emergency services called out for them!

Author: INJAF

A big thank you to everyone who helped with information and ideas, especially Rachel Burgess (Biodiversity and Landscape Administrator at Kingston University) and Paul in Wales.

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