The conservation volunteer: ‘A life-changing experience’

This article is part of the People Make Dartington series, meeting a wide range of the brilliantly diverse individuals and businesses who contribute to Dartington estate life. View the full collection here

Jordan Harris didn’t think he was going to university. After seven months on the Dartington estate he changed his mind.

‘I’d been doing lots of walking over the summer after finishing college and my favourite place was the Dartington estate’, says Jordan (left). ‘I’ve got lots of respect and love for Dartington. We originally moved to Devon because my dad taught at the music school and was a teacher at Dartington College of Arts. I thought it would be a pretty great place to spend more time. I noticed that there was woodlands conservation here and thought: that sounds like me.’

Jordan started in 2016 with Mike Newby alongside volunteers Neil, Mark and Vicky. The work, which changes each week, included hedge maintenance on Lower Drive, reclamation work at Berryman’s Marsh, clearance work at Schumacher College, monitoring cirl buntings in Jon Perkin’s winter stubble field (thanks to Jon’s support for conservation) with a RSPB specialist, butterfly transects with volunteer Vicky and now a bird survey for the British Trust for Ornithology at Dartington Hill Plantation.

Jordan (left) enjoys some Jenga with volunteer Neil and Conservation Officer Mike

‘It’s been such an eye opener working with the people here – they are so passionate and knowledgeable about conservation. Mike’s been an absolute teacher to me over the past few months. Mike always explains why we were doing what we’re doing. This is because Dartington has been demonstrating lots of ideas in conservation and farming over a long period of time, and there has been a lot of archiving of this information. So Mike would show us a particular area of wood and explain what the farming methods and differing conservation plans are that have led it to be what it is today. His approach is always to nurture the natural way by removing manmade obstacles and undoing some of the previous management that didn’t go to plan. There’s a lot more to it than you might think.’

After completing school and college having specialised in music, Jordan knew that he was keen not to do music. He says: ‘As for further study, not at all. One week I was thinking I don’t think I’m going. Mike said you really should look at university courses. Three weeks later I’d applied and been accepted. I’m now on a four year BSc Conservation with Forestry at Bangor University – entirely based on what I’ve done here. Mike did a fantastic job of writing a reference for me and sat down with me and talked me through the key concepts before my interview.

‘Bangor’s a great place to study conservation as it is right next to the wilderness of Snowdonia and there are lots of opportunities to work with Snowdonia rangers. If it’s anything like what I’ve done at Dartington it’ll be great. I always encourage young people to volunteer – particularly if you like practical outdoors work – don’t be afraid. I know it’s hard as you don’t get paid but in the long run it’s about learning.

‘I want to thank Dartington for helping me: the last seven months have been a life-changing experience. Beforehand I had no plans for what I was going to do now I’m well on the way – all because of a relatively short time at Dartington. Dartington is very special.

Find out more about Dartington’s conservation work ⇒