A brief history of The Conservation Volunteers from its early beginnings to the present day.
We are proud of our history – please look through our photographic archive and let us know if they stir any memories, we are always delighted to hear from our past volunteers.
Celebrating 60 years of TCV
TCV celebrated its 60th Anniversary in 2019. Sixty years since the first volunteers gathered at Box Hill to help protect the local wildlife. We have a brand new website that shares TCV stories from the volunteers, staff and supporters who have been part of our journey – we would love to read yours!
TCV: 60 years connecting people and places
It was late February 1959, yet Spring was in the air. Enjoying the day on Box Hill, Surrey, botanist David Bellamy was surprised to find a group of young people ripping up plants in a recently declared Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Discovering they were not vandals, but volunteers clearing scrub with ‘The Conservation Corps’, he enthusiastically joined in!
2019: another warm February. In fact, the warmest on record. ‘The Conservation Corps,’ now The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), is celebrating its 60th anniversary. The world has changed in many ways and these days an unseasonal warm February highlights an issue we must tackle collectively and globally.
TCV through the ages
TCV too has changed over the decades, but it has held firm to one key insight: conservation volunteering is great for people and communities as well as nature. When the Council for Nature founded The Conservation Corps in January 1959 it aimed to give young people some of the perceived benefits of National Service (then newly abolished). What those young volunteers gained – a sense of purpose, personal achievement and sheer fun – delighted and inspired them.
In 1970 the organisation became an independent charity, the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) with the Duke of Edinburgh as Patron. Supported by people like Sir David Attenborough, Bill Oddie, Spike Milligan, Cliff Richard and Lulu, it expanded its activities, including a registered membership scheme for 3,000 volunteers. In 1977it set up a unique ecological park opposite the Tower of London, working with the London Queen’s Silver Jubilee Committee.
Throughout the 1980’s, BTCV embraced urban environments and community action in the UK and abroad. Midweek projects gave unemployed and retired people more opportunities to get involved. BTCV established working holidays across Europe and launched the first of two successful Million Tree Campaigns following the Great Storm of 1987. The decade closed with BTCV membership at 10,000, its Natural Break conservation holiday programme the largest of its kind in Britain.
In the 1990s, BTCV pursued its goals for people and society through the government’s New Deal and Millennium Volunteers programme, for which BTCV received the largest first-round funding, leading to over 3,000 volunteering placements in the next decade.
The first BTCV Green Gym, set up in 1998 with ‘social prescribing’ pioneer Dr William Bird of Sonning Common, Berkshire, highlighted the health benefits of conservation volunteering.
The social significance of BTCV’s activities continued to grow in the new millennium. BTCV’s Environments for All encouraged people from under-represented groups to take up environmental conservation. In 2001, BTCV was one of the UK’s largest environmental sector providers of training and support for the unemployed, while over £4 million from the New Opportunities Fund went to 500 community projects in deprived areas through the BTCV-managed People’s Places Award Scheme. Sad eyesores near shopping centres became green community assets thanks to BTCV and the Prudential Grass Roots programme. BTCV’s significance to the sector was later recognised by five-year strategic funding from the Cabinet Office.
The importance of conservation volunteering for health and well-being is reflected in the flourishing BTCV (now TCV) Green Gyms which celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2018, alongside projects with Mind, Birmingham Health Education Service and Dementia Adventure. TCV also won awards from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Royal Society for Public Health.
TCV also continues to meet the challenges facing the natural world with programmes such as the Greenwich Meantime Nursery, Big Tree Plant for DEFRA and I Dig Trees with OVO. Vital professional skills and knowledge have been nurtured by TCV’s Natural Talent and Natural Communities apprenticeships. TCV’s Community Network supports around 1000 local groups, with a dedicated website, competitively-priced insurance, discounts on merchandise, funding information, newsletter and access to grants. Membership (previously £38 annually) is now free to community groups, clubs, schools or local organisations that share TCV’s aims. Players of People’s Postcode Lottery fund this and other programmes for community green spaces.
2019: in TCV’s diamond anniversary year, TCV goes on inspiring people across the UK to volunteer to improve local environments and biodiversity. People from across many communities are actively involved, well beyond the keen young conservers of the 1960s. In parks and community gardens, Local Nature Reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, school and hospital grounds, waterways, wetlands and woodlands, they join in and feel good.
1950s: Founded in the 50s
The Conservation Volunteers’ roots are established through the creation of the Conservation Corps.
Brigadier Armstrong is appointed by Council for Nature to form the Conservation Corps in order to involve volunteers in practical conservation work.
First project held at Box Hill in Surrey. Forty two volunteers, including David Bellamy, clear dogwood to encourage the growth of juniper and the distinctive chalkland flora.
1960s: Stretching in the 60s
The Conservation Corps expands its programme of practical tasks with most practical work taking place at nature reserves in the countryside. A training and education remit is introduced.
Conservation Corps expands its activities to include education and amenity work in the countryside.
Conservation Corps moves from a basement office at Queen’s Gate, Kensington to new premises at London Zoo in Regent’s Park.
The first training course for volunteers marks the beginning of an ongoing commitment to the provision of training for volunteers and staff.
Membership has increased to 600 and volunteers are completing 6,000 work days per year.
The first ever international exchange visit to Czechoslovakia, where volunteers study the wildlife and land management of the Low Tatra Mountains paves the way for a series of international exchanges, resulting ultimately 20 years later in the international project programme.
1970s: Striding into the 70s
The Conservation Volunteers is established as an independent organisation and opens up offices around England, Wales and Scotland. Volunteer numbers continue to rise.
Conservation Corps takes over its own responsibilities and operates under the new name of British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV). The new logo is launched.
HRH Duke of Edinburgh KG KT becomes Patron.
Local group affiliation scheme is launched. By 1974 a total of 57 groups have joined.
Conserver magazine makes its debut and the Cooks Handbook and Organising a Local Conservation Group are published, both as a result of volunteer effort.
The number of registered volunteers reached 3,000
“Conservation Corps Week” in October results in a dramatic rise in enrolment and a BTCV membership scheme is introduced.
As part of Jubilee year, BTCV works with Environment Committee of the London Queen’s Silver Jubilee Committee to set up a unique ecological park opposite Tower of London.
BTCV moves to new headquarters in Reading.
The first group from Northern Ireland affiliates to BTCV
1980s: Expanding in the 80s
The focus of BTCV’s activities begins to shift to include the urban environment and community action.
There are 350 local groups affiliated to BTCV and the number of BTCV Natural Breaks has reached 280 per year.
BTCV joins the Nature Conservancy Council, Civic Trust and Shell (UK) as a partner in the 12 year old Shell Better Britain Campaign.
A separate Northern Ireland region is established as Conservation Volunteers Northern Ireland (CVNI).
Links are established with the newly established Groundwork Trust in North West England and the two organisations work together to improve the urban environment.
Midweek projects are introduced with the aim of involving unemployed and retired people in conservation work.
BTCV’s new Wallingford headquarters are officially opened.
Six conservation volunteers travel to Iceland to help the Icelandic Nature Conservancy Council to set up a conservation volunteer movement. During the summer several BTCV groups help to repair a badly eroded footpath in Skaftafell National Park.
BTCV celebrates its 25th birthday with a commemorative task at Boxhill in Surrey.
Conservation Practice Ltd (CPL) is established as BTCV’s trading subsidiary.
In response to the losses incurred by the 1987 hurricane, BTCV launches a National Tree Planting Campaign, with the support of Esso and the Countryside Commission.
A European Commission grant enables BTCV to employ an International Development Officer to establish working holidays in each European country.
1989 Membership has grown to 10,000 – over 25 times the number involved in 1959 and the Natural Break programme is the largest of its kind in Britain, involving over 6,000 people each year.
1990s: New Directions for the 90s
BTCV expands throughout the decade.
The emphasis is on people and society as well as the environment with BTCV emerging towards the end of the 1990s as a key player in initiatives such as the government’s New Deal and Millennium Volunteers programmes.
Conservation Volunteers Ireland, the first independent organisation established as a direct result of BTCV’s European Commission funded International Conservation Action Network is established.
BTCV’s Three Year Million Tree Campaign reaches its target with the planting of the millionth tree by Vice President David Bellamy at Watergrove Reservoir in Lancashire. A new phase of the campaign – The Second Million – is launched and the emphasis shifts from planting towards woodland management and aftercare. 1993 BTCV runs its first Woodland Action Week sponsored by Esso. The emphasis is on nurturing the season’s young trees.
CVNI celebrates its 10th anniversary with Professor David Bellamy.
The 1000th Local Group joins BTCV’s Local Group Membership Scheme.
Broadcaster David Jacobs plants BTCV’s Second Millionth Tree at Two Storm Wood in Richmond Park, Surrey.
The first eight BTCV volunteers are successful in receiving the NEBSM (National Examining Board for Supervisory Management) recognised leadership awards.
The government supported Environmental Training Organisation, of which BTCV is a founder member, is launched to promote high quality training in the environmental sector.
BTCV runs its first national Pond Campaign.
The Natural Pioneers Millennium Award Scheme funded by the Millennium Commission and supported by Marks & Spencer is introduced by BTCV.
Ten conservation volunteering organisations from around the world gather at Henley Management College in Oxfordshire to debate the international future of conservation volunteering and lay the foundations for the Conservation Volunteers Alliance.
SCP’s membership agree to a formal amalgamation with BTCV
BTCV joins forces with Dr William Bird of Sonning Common Health Centre in Berkshire to introduce the BTCV Green Gym project.
BTCV launches its new Urban Handbook, funded by Barclays plc and its new Position Paper Working with People in Towns and Cities at its first Urban Environment Day attended by Michael Meacher MP, Minister for the Environment and Professor Chris Baines.
BTCV celebrates its 40th anniversary with the launch of a new Strategic Plan for the period 2000 – 2004 ‘Expanding the boundaries of conservation volunteering’.
The Conservation Volunteers Alliance is officially launched in May at Clandeboye in Northern Ireland.
BTCV is the largest recipient of first round funding in the government’s new Millennium Volunteers programme.
Following the success of the Green Gym, BTCV publishes “A practical guide to setting up a Green Gym” and sets up a new pilot project in Brighton.
2000s New Millennium new horizons
BTCV launches its Millennium Volunteers programme providing over 3,000 volunteering placements for young people aged 16-24.
BTCV becomes one of the largest environmental sector providers of training and support to unemployed people in the UK.
The BTCV Conservation Holidays programme wins a British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Award for its project in Gomorszolos, Hungary.
BTCV is chosen by the New Opportunities Fund to run the People’s Places Award Scheme, a major grants programme for community environment projects in deprived areas.
BTCV secures its first contract with a Learning Skills Council to deliver apprenticeships.
Conservation Volunteers Northern Ireland Millennium Tree Campaign exceeded its targets, planting more than 1.6 million trees.
The foot and mouth epidemic has a major impact on rural activities. BTCV staff and volunteers work hard to make up for lost volunteer and environmental opportunities. Despite the outbreak, BTCV achieves its highest recorded workdays total, over a quarter of a million days.
BTCV’s groundbreaking Environments for All programme reaches out to new volunteers, particularly from black and minority ethnic and marginalised communities.
BTCV launches its strategic plan Inspiring People, Improving Places setting out its vision for the next four years, including an ambitious target to involve more than 1 million people.
BTCV’s innovative work in involving communities traditionally under-represented in the environment sector is recognised at our Environments for All Conference.
The Prudential Grass Roots programme is launched, enabling BTCV to support the regeneration of green spaces close to shopping centres managed by Prudential Property Investment Managers Ltd.
As part of the UK Year of the Volunteer, BTCV runs a highly successful Environment Month, recruiting many new volunteers.
BTCV launches Spring into Action backed by TV gardener Charlie Dimmock and supported by Prudential, the Cabinet Office and BBC Breathing Places. The six week campaign engages nearly 19,000 volunteers.
Sedum House, BTCV’s new head office, is opened in Doncaster by Ed Miliband, Minister for the Third Sector. It wins awards for its environmentally sustainable design.
BTCV’s People’s Places Award Scheme draws to a close, having awarded over £4 million to more than 500 community groups.
BTCV’s Patron HRH The Duke of Edinburgh gives out the first BTCV Green Hero Awards, recognising the dedication and achievements of BTCV volunteers and groups.
BTCV launches its Community Champions Scheme.
BTCV’s vital role in the sector is recognised with strategic funding for the next five years from the Office of the Third Sector.
BTCV’s expertise in involving young people is recognised with the launch of two new programmes aimed at 16-24 year olds – Greenprints and My Space? Our Space!
BTCV announces a new partnership with The Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) for employee volunteering events across the UK.
The Green Gym celebrates its 10th Anniversary. More than 70 Green Gyms are now in operation across the UK.
BTCV’s third annual Spring into Action campaign involves more than 20,000 volunteers at 770 sites across the UK.
Bill Oddie, TV presenter and BTCV Vice-President, presents a Network Rail Environment Award to BTCV volunteers for work at a site in Great Stukeley, Cambridgeshire.
BTCV publishes social return on investment research that shows £1 invested in environmental volunteering can lead to a return of up to £4.
The Present Day
TCV opens the Greenwich Meantime Nursery, a unique project using vacant development land to create a resource for nature conservation, biodiversity and sustainability.
TCV launches Well-being Comes Naturally, a partnership with Mind which aims to engage people experiencing mental distress and to integrate them into our conservation projects. Through regular sessions, we enable participants to exercise both body and mind – and to improve the local environment.
1st May 2012 – BTCV becomes known as TCV
TCV launches the Big Tree Plant, on behalf of DEFRA. This three-year programme works with volunteers and community groups to plant 150,000 trees England-wide
The Hollybush team of staff and volunteers are trained to use British Sign Language (BSL) or Makaton to overcome the communications barrier of working with a number of deaf volunteers.
20,000 people and counting visit Skelton Grange Environment Centre with Access to Nature, an exciting project that works with volunteers to create welcoming, well managed, wildlife-rich sites across Leeds.
Health for Life – a unique food growing programme launches in Birmingham. Funded by Mondelez International Foundation and, run in partnership with Birmingham Health Education Service, the programme promotes fun activities that engage people in growing food, physical activity, healthy eating and cookery.
TCV hold a National Green Impacts Conference to share the findings of a three-year study aimed at proving the benefits of volunteering for health and wellbeing. Research showed that involvement in volunteering has a positive impact on attitudes and behaviours towards the environment, lifestyles and willingness to engage in the local community.
TCV’s Natural Communities Apprenticeship Programme launches. Natural Communities Apprenticeship Programme provides trainees with a practical and flexible methodology for engaging everyone to enjoy, understand, value and care for the green places around them.
TCV welcomes Jonathon Porritt as President
David Slater celebrates 50 years of volunteering at TCV, David is one of TCV’s longest serving volunteers and advises anyone considering volunteering to “go for it”
TCV wins a top award from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for TCV’s ‘Growing Communities’ in Belfast. TCV won the ‘Healthy Places’ Award as part of Belfast’s WHO Healthy Cities initiative. The award was for the project that best positively affects people’s lives, their health and wellbeing and whilst tackling disadvantage and inequalities.
TCV launches a new partnership with OVO Energy to get the UK planting as part of the exciting ‘I Dig Trees’ planting programme. On behalf of its Greener Energy Plan, OVO funded over 158,000 free trees for volunteers and community groups to plant across the UK.
2015 was a year of considerable growth and recognition for TCV’s Green Gym. This growth was supported by funding from the Cabinet Office and innovation foundation, Nesta.
Green Gym wins a coveted Health and Wellbeing Award from the Royal Society for Public Health. These awards recognise achievements in the promotion of health and wellbeing through policies that empower communities and individuals, improve the population’s health and address the wider social determinants of health.
TCV works in partnership with Adur and Worthing Councils (South coast of England), on a Department for Communities and Local Government’s funded ‘Rethinking Parks’ pilot. One key component is “to engage and work with local residents and existing groups to assess their appetite for being involved in community-led or joint management arrangements of their parks”
TCV works with the Glasgow and Clyde Valley Green Network Trust (GCVGNT) on an exciting new community rewilding project also funded by the Robertson Trust. The project works with deprived communities in Glasgow and the Clyde Valley encouraging them to discover and engage with their local natural heritage in sustainable and innovative ways.
TCV celebrates our Vice President, Sir David Attenborough 90th birthday. Volunteers, staff and supporters of TCV join Sir David in Waterlow Park in North London to plant an elm tree in his honour.
After five terrific years, TCV’s Kent Heritage Trees project comes to its conclusion and plants its last heritage tree. The project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, demonstrated the important contribution trees make to both our environment and the cultural life of our communities.
TCV’s Natural Talent programme has run for 10 years filling the substantial gap in ecological skills across the UK. 95% of Natural Talent trainees are now active in the conservation sector, using skills and expertise gained with TCV.
TCV launches Growing Communities – a major new environmental scheme to enable communities in West Sussex to improve their health and wellbeing. The programme will encourage local residents to involve themselves in projects they identify to utilise disused or redundant patches of land.
TCV’s Green Gym features in a new study commissioned by BBC2’s Trust Me I’m A Doctor to investigate the effects of different activities on stress levels.
The Roundhouse is officially opened in Hollybush, providing a warm place for volunteers to plan the day’s activities, enjoy a well-deserved break when working outdoors or do preparatory work during the cold winter months.
TCV announce a new partnership with Dementia Adventure to expand outdoor activity for people with dementia.
TCV’s practical conservation handbooks are digitised and available for a modest subscription, providing practical guidance to create and manage many aspects of rural and urban green spaces.
TCV launches our new Community Network Membership benefits, providing community groups with a dedicated website, competitively-priced insurance, discounts on merchandise, funding information, access to grants and much, much more.
TCV receives significant funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, to support our volunteering programmes in community green spaces. This funding will help us to transform even more of Great Britain’s precious green spaces, improving the natural environment whilst enhancing local people’s health and wellbeing and sharing new skills and knowledge.
January 2018 saw us welcome new TCV Chair, Professor Tony Crook, who brings significant experience, as recognised by his CBE for his services to housing and to the governance of charities.
2017-18 saw the production and release of our refreshed strategy, Connecting People and Green Spaces. 30 partner organisations and more than 200 staff and volunteers helped to shape this strategy. Our three strategic goals for 2018-21 were
- Inspire More People to Make a Difference
- Secure More Support for OurWork
- Use our Resources to Deliver the Greatest Impact
TCV’s Green Gym received funds from Big Lottery Fund, raised by players of The National Lottery, to develop the quality assurance processes for social prescribing. This innovative project linked with the NHS across the UK and supported the scaling of social prescribing nationwide. November saw the first national social prescribing conference which we co-developed with the King’s Fund. The conference was a huge success, attracting over 400 delegates, the Secretary of State for Health, and contributors from across the UK.
2018 was the 20th year of TCV’s Green Gym and to celebrate, various Green Gyms from South Oxfordshire hosted a giant work session.
We were delighted to be selected as the 2018-20 Charity of the Year partner for Wates Group, one of the largest privately-owned construction, development and property services companies in the UK. During the year 291 Wates employees supported 25 different TCV projects right across the UK and raised an incredible £50,000 through fundraising activities, including a 12-hour canoeing and hiking challenge.
TCV and OVO Energy won the Best Tree or Woodland Partnership Award at the Horticulture Week Custodian Awards, in recognition of our hugely successful I Dig Trees programme.
Thousands of Londoners joined the Mayor of London, TCV, Trees for Cities and the Woodland Trust to plant 75,000 trees in gardens, in communities and at mass planting events across the capital over a single weekend.
Kicking off an exciting year for TCV – our 60th anniversary! We created new web pages to collect people’s TCV stories throughout the years. Events later in the year included our Big Green Weekend, the TCV 60th Anniversary Hero Awards held at City Hall in London, and 3,500 trees planted by over 100 TCV volunteers at our tree planting event in Camden.
In celebration of our 60th anniversary we announced free membership of the TCV Community Network across the UK, supported in Great Britain by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
As a partner in managing sites, we were ecstatic to win five awards at The Land Trust Awards, which recognise the fantastic work that goes on across The Land Trust’s 70 sites.
TCV’s popular community centre and nature garden in the heart of Leeds, Hollybush, started a fantastic year-long project with £280k funding support from Veolia Environmental Trust, Wates Group, National Grid and Leeds Civic Trust.
As the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic became clear, we took a step that was unprecedented in our history – ceasing our volunteering programmes in late March. Throughout April, all but essential site maintenance and safety activities – conducted by our employees – stopped. Volunteering slowly resumed aligning to government guidance.
We celebrated a huge milestone as I Dig Trees, our tree-planting partnership programme with OVO Energy, reached its one millionth tree being planted or distributed since the programme began in 2015.
Our Belfast team of volunteers received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, known as the MBE for volunteer groups and held a ceremony to receive the award from Lord Lieutenant of Belfast.
We were part of the iconic celebrity fundraising event, ICAP Charity Day, allowing us to engage and educate 15,000 schoolchildren in the great outdoors through the ICAP Fruit Tree Initiative – From the Ground Up!
TCV was part of The (inaugural) Massive Get Together, which saw 10 charities collaborate on an online fundraising event. The evening was streamed live and comprised celebrity entertainment, prize draws and lots of laughs, all while raising more than £40,000 for good causes.
With 32,000 native trees, we planted the largest mini urban forest in Europe – the Forest of Thanks in Barking – as a thank you to all the key front-line workers and NHS staff that did so much for their communities during the pandemic. The forest was created using the Miyawaki method.