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Volunteering at Scouts is changing to help us reach more young people

Volunteering is changing to help us reach more young people

Volunteering is changing at Scouts. Read more

Discover what this means

Become a hillside conservation champion

Understand how to protect local hillsides and mountains, then do some conservation work to become part of the solution.

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You’ll need

  • A4 paper
  • Pens or pencils
  • Camera or phone
  • Access to the internet
  • Gardening tools
  • Old clothes
  • Old trainers
  • Boots, if needed
  • Local OS maps, as needed

Before you begin 

  • This activity is best split across multiple sessions. The first should be an introduction to a conservation focus, and this should be followed by a commitment to an ongoing outdoor project. This might involve a single day’s work or a series of visits. Volunteering further afield will likely mean staying the night, so you’ll need to refer to our Nights Away guidance. Double check with your group that they’re comfortable with this before getting them involved in any projects.
  • Leaders and helpers will need to make themselves more familiar with the methods used to prevent hillside erosion and preserve natural hilly habitats. Looking at hill terracing, stabilising slopes and irrigation should help. They could also take a look at some examples of what can be achieved by checking out the British Mountaineering Council’s Mend our mountains campaigns. These are often larger scale projects, but could be scaled down to meet more manageable, local objectives.
  • Let parents and carers know that you’re planning on carrying out some conservation work on local hillsides or mountains. They might like to get involved and could know others who can help.
  • It’s important for everybody, particularly those working towards their Hill Walker Activity Badge, to understand all of the ways in which people can help solve environmental problems. Conservation projects are one way, but discussing the issues and inspiring changes to behaviours can be just as effective, as explained below.

Conservation doesn’t have to be designated to community projects. We can all work towards a better future by promising to consider our actions every time we’re out enjoying hilly country. Here’s a great conversation starter for next time you’re out and about.

The first time the group come across an eroded section of path, stop the group and point out: 

  • How the natural environment has been damaged by human footfall over time. Where the turf cover is broken, the ground is more vulnerable to rainfall. There can be three times as much rain in the hills as in other parts of the country. Rainwater will tend to follow paths, where the ground is hollowed out. Rain will then damage the path by washing soil away.
  • How a damaged path tends to spread out further, since people avoid the bit that’s already eroded. Good practice is to keep to the existing path and not walk along the side of it, or strike out across parts where the ground isn’t eroded. When a path gets badly damaged, funds need to be raised to build a more robust path.
  • Where a constructed path is available. You should use these, as your footfall here will do less damage to the surrounding environment.


Part one: choosing your project

  1. Gather in the meeting place for a session discussing ways of taking part in hillside conservation. Talk about authorities and organisations involved in this kind of work. Explain that this would involve the group giving something back to the local environment or one nearby, and could involve an overnight stay somewhere.
  1. Split into small groups. Each group should work together to come up with some ways people can help maintain hillsides, and where these might be needed. If possible, allow groups to use the internet, books and maps to help trigger some light bulb moments. Write down some notes about possible conservation methods that could be used and potential locations.
  1. When everyone’s had a think about this, gather together again and share ideas. A leader should collect the notes that the groups have made, to get in touch with the relevant parties.
  • Get permission from a landowner, local authority or organisation responsible for managing the area. Discuss whether they’ll be there to help on the day.
  • It’d be helpful to visit the site in advance to get a clear idea of what you’ll be doing and assess the suitability for your group. If this isn’t possible, how about asking a land manager to give you a virtual tour?
  • Ask parents and carers if they’re interested in helping out. It would be particularly useful if anyone had any landscaping, gardening, forestry or construction experience.
  • Be sure to gain written permission from parents and carers and confirm volunteer numbers with the land manager or local authority.
  • Ask about equipment. If there aren’t any tools you can use on the site, you’ll need to think about finding and bringing along your own. It would be useful to know if you’re responsible for training your group to use this equipment, or whether land managers and other volunteers will be available to help.
  • Research your route and secure transport well in advance.


Part two: when you're out on site 

  • Take time to familiarise yourselves with the site. Set boundaries and expectations with the group.
  • Identify potential hazards and what to do to limit and control them. This should be done by leaders with the support of the wider group.
  • Choose the leader, helper or land manager to demonstrate proper tool use and working techniques, if you haven’t covered this already. It may not be possible to practise with the equipment before the day out.
  • Decide how the group will be structured. Split into smaller groups where necessary and decide who’s responsible for each task. Encourage groups to swap roles and take breaks, so that they don’t get too tired or bored.


The group has done something amazing to help the local environment and give back to the community. Be sure to chat about what the project could mean to hillwalkers and the local wildlife. A successful conservation project will help volunteers feel connected to the natural environment and allow others to keep enjoying the land for years to come. Why is it important for us to take responsibility for these environments, now more than ever?

What other ways can you think of, besides a conservation project, that might help hillsides? Remember: conservation usually involves a physical, one-off change to the landscape. It doesn’t necessarily prevent the same damage from happening again. Think of damaged hillsides as being like a car that keeps breaking down. A mechanic can usually repair the parts that keep going wrong. But the best solution would be to show the driver what they could do to stop the car breaking down in the first place. Changing the behaviours of people by showing them the damage or the facts and figures will change how people hillwalk, and they in turn will pass on what they’ve learned to other hillwalkers. This is the best, long-term solution to help out hillsides that are hurting.


All activities must be safely managed. You must complete a thorough risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Always get approval for the activity, and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.

Outdoor activities

You must have permission to use the location. Always check the weather forecast, and inform parents and carers of any change in venue.

Gardening and nature

Everyone must wash their hands after the activity has finished. Wear gloves if needed. Explain how to safely use equipment and set clear boundaries so everyone knows what’s allowed.

Hiking and walking

Follow the guidance for activities in Terrain Zero, or the guidance for each the adventurous activity.

  • Speak to the local authority or landowner about the flexibility of the project. If your group is up for a more physical challenge, let them know and see what they suggest.
  • If you’re after something easier, steer clear of big projects like hill terracing and see if there are smaller planting projects the group can help with.
  • Consider the comfort of everyone in your group. It may be that some of you need to be close to toilet facilities, so that they can take regular comfort breaks.
  • The best way to know if the site is suitable for the needs of your group is to visit beforehand. If you’re unable to visit, take up any queries with the land manager well in advance.

All Scout activities should be inclusive and accessible.

If everyone has enjoyed the project and the group has developed a good relationship with those who manage the site, then why not discuss how you can keep up to date with further volunteering opportunities?

If the site is too far from your meeting place then you could consider making a seasonal or annual return to the site, to check in on your project and explore new opportunities.

Young people steer this activity by making their project suggestions in the meeting place and then by playing an active role in the conservation project.