With the Covid pandemic disrupting our Summer travel plans and beyond, it’s a good time to pause and think about our future adventures. In the first of a series about sustainable travel, and with staycations predicted to rise in the light of international travel restrictions, we discover how to visit some of the most beautiful parts of the UK – and help to preserve them while you travel.

It’s a rare traveller who isn’t at least slightly haunted by the spectre of their carbon footprint. Most of us are trying to figure out how we can best combine our love for discovering new places with the need to fly less, consume less, and tread lightly on the beautiful environments that we are privileged to visit

It can be a tough calculation, weighing up the potential environmental cost of your proposed trip, against the need for a change of scene, a breath of fresh air, a dip in the cool ocean. But what if there was a way to visit some of the most remote and precious parts of the British Isles, see them from a perspective that isn’t available to an ordinary traveller, and to feed your soul at the same time?

Residential conservation holidays offer exactly this opportunity. From dolphin watching off the Hebrides to drinking country wines in Cheshire, by volunteering some of your time to help protect the environment, you can give yourself an experience that you’ll never forget.

Sail the wild west coast of Scotland

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust is based on the Isle of Mull. The organisation gathers evidence about whale, dolphin and porpoise, collectively known as cetaceans, as well as basking sharks, in the waters around the Hebrides. The information they collect is used by the Scottish Government to help protect these important species.

The Trust uses citizen scientists to collect data, and one unique volunteering opportunity that they offer is to join the crew of the Silurian – the Trust’s research yacht. Expeditions last 7 to 10 days, and no experience is required. Rod White is a veteran of nine Silurian expeditions: “To sail in the wonderful scenery off the Scottish coast is a privilege, and anchoring in wild places accessible to only a few makes the experience unforgettable.

“If you’ve never experienced a close encounter with cetaceans you will very likely find it a profound and spiritual event. No two expeditions are the same. The weather, time of year, complement of the crew and of the volunteers ensures a unique experience. I’m always pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the people aboard – it doesn’t take long for a team spirit to develop.” ►hwdt.org

Rewild the Highlands

Glencoe Lochan

Trees for Life is a conservation charity dedicated to rewilding the Scottish Highlands. They have planted nearly two million trees, and offer conservation weeks where volunteers plant and grow trees, monitor wildlife and support other vital work which helps restore the Caledonian Forest.

Stephen Couling is a volunteer week leader for Trees for Life: “I love the work we do, which I think is crucially important in trying to repair some of the damage done to the environment by centuries of poor land management; I love the people with whom I do this work – my Trees for Life colleagues and the amazing volunteers who come from all walks of life and many different countries; I love the places in which we do this work: the Highlands of Scotland.”

“Our volunteers say that they enjoy doing something to help nature recover; they enjoy the community spirit that comes from living and working with like-minded people for a week; they love being outside working in all winds and weathers; they love meeting new people; and they love being so isolated and wild – away from phones and the internet – and living completely off-grid for a week. But above all they love ending the week feeling that they’ve made a difference.”

“We’re drowning in stories of natural disasters – fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, melting ice caps, pollution, plastics, disappearing animals and insects. These conservation weeks are small but important moments of hope.” ►treesforlife.org.uk

Connect with nature on an organic farm

Founded in the UK in the 1970s WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), is an organisation connecting willing WWOOFers with farming hosts. Accommodation, meals and learning are given in return for help on the farm. Emma Robinson has been WWOOFing for several years now: “It seemed like a brilliant way to travel, meet really interesting people, stay in some wonderful places, and learn lots about organic growing and off-grid lifestyles.”

“I took my partner for his first WWOOFing adventure to a smallholding just outside Macclesfield, where we stayed with a lady who was an absolute inspiration. She lived a very simple life, with no electricity, and kept her milk in the stream. She made her own country wines and let us sample a different one each night. We stayed in a gypsy caravan, with its own little stove, we bathed in the stream and had beautiful walks across the nearby meadows.”

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“Another of my favourite visits was to a community farm in the South West – another idyllic place. I was there during a holiday week, where various families came every year for a break. Every day included amazing meals, sharing stories and lovely conversations.”

“For me, although I really love learning about gardening, growing, animal husbandry and so on, the best bit is the people. Really, it’s about enjoying the company of people that I otherwise wouldn’t meet, and who are always incredibly interesting, warm, inspirational and generous. There’s something about the nature of WWOOFing and its mutual generosity that really warms your soul.” ►wwoof.org.uk

Protect vital ecosystems

Scottish Wildlife Trust volunteers at Loch of the Lowes
Scottish Wildlife Trust volunteers at Loch of the Lowes

The Scottish Wildlife Trust undertakes policy and campaigning work to protect Scotland’s wildlife for the future, as well as managing a network of around 120 wildlife reserves across Scotland. The organisation offers a range of volunteering opportunities, from cleaning beaches to saving squirrels. Helen Lancaster worked with the Trust as a volunteer assistant ranger. “I experienced and worked on all five of the Trust’s wildlife reserves in Perthshire. Each one of these reserves has unique features and working on them has given me an insight into how different habitats such as meadows and woodlands need to be managed.

“Loch of the Lowes Wildlife Reserve is one of the Trust’s flagship reserves, with iconic wildlife including beavers, red squirrels and ospreys. Helping to look after the reserve was a great responsibility to get to take on. The best thing about volunteering, though, was sharing time with like-minded people. There was a huge amount of support and encouragement from everyone I met during my time as a volunteer.” ►scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk

Lead image credit: HWDT Biodiveristy Officer Kerry Froud