Octavia Hill Awards: The Volunteer Wild Hero shortlist

13th August 2014
©Thinkstock - Octavia Hill Awards shortlist

This year, the Octavia Hill Awards are looking for heroes who have helped children and young adults connect with the outdoors and wildlife – passing on their own experience, enthusiasm and love of nature. We want to celebrate the people who have made a real difference to the youngsters around them – helping to inspire a life-long love of the outdoors and wildlife.

The Volunteer Wild Hero award is for an outstanding individual who has given up their free time to encourage children into the outdoors and the natural world through active teaching, conservation work, campaigns and by example. Voting closes midday Sunday 31st AugustHere are the shortlisted nominees. 


1. Anna Portch

Empty Classroom Day Campaign, Croydon, London

Anna Portch has worked tirelessly on the Empty Classroom Campaigns since she established it 3 years ago. Working to get children learning outside the traditional classroom on one day each year the campaign has grown to a national level. Anna works in the education sector and set up and organised the campaign in her own time. Since 2011, Anna has encouraged, delighted and inspired hundreds of teachers with her passion for outdoor learning and reconnecting children with nature. She's managed to get organisations such as The Eden Project, ZSL London, ISIS Education Centre and The Wildlife Trusts involved, lending their support and resources to enable the campaign to grow. None of this would have been possible without Anna’s sustained dedication and enthusiasm.

2. Julie Merrett

Volunteer, Avalon Marshes Somerset

Julie began volunteering in 2007 with the RSPB’s ‘Bird Friendly Schools’ project and maintained an active involvement with her allocated schools beyond the end of the 2 year project period. She also began volunteering with Natural England in 2009. Julie now runs and arranges events for the Avalon Marshes Young Wardens Group and the Avalon Marshes Family Group. She organises the Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve Butterfly transect teams, designs & produces very original environmental games for use by schools and co-ordinates and designs the quarterly Shapwick Heath Newsletter. She is an active member of the Avalon Marshes Education Liaison Group, and has worked hard to represent the interests of Natural England through meetings and joint events. Julie has led on several successful ‘small grant’ applications for habitat improvements and is also involved in developing opportunities for secondary schools to learn on the local nature reserves. 

3. George Acheson

Volunteer, Northern Ireland

George is a retired schoolteacher who now spends time helping children to build bird boxes in nursery schools, primary schools, Brownies, Rainbows, Guides and Boys Brigade. He has also been involved with a local church and school, helping them achieve a 'Green Flag Award' for their local cemetery and the church to receive an Eco Award. George delivers presentations to teach children about the different birds which they might hope to see in their schools and gardens and help and advise the schools on wildlife gardens. George encourages children to try new outdoor hobbies such as Geocaching and has taken a number of children from schools, Brownies and Guides out to experience this activity. While out with them he always points out the birds, wildlife and flowers they come across. George not only encourages the children to become interested in wildlife but also encourages adults to feed the birds in their gardens and spot local wildlife. George is very passionate about the outdoors and will always try and encourage others to spend time enjoying the wonderful world around us.

4. Margaret Magee

Belfast Guides, Ireland

Ms Margaret Magee, has given countless voluntary hours to 19th Belfast Guides, with the emphasis on sharing her love of the outdoors. In 2001 she made her hobby her profession and is now a fully qualified freelance Outdoor Instructor; yet still she willingly volunteers her expertise and goes the extra mile both for others. Her dedication is particularly apparent when planning ‘traditional’ camping for the Guides and organising Duke of Edinburgh Award camping and canoeing expeditions.  At the heart of every camp are outdoor skills, safety, and respect for the environment with pioneering activities like building shelters and cooking on wood fires without damage. The trips help young people experience a world very different from their everyday life. Now, older teenagers are returning to form the next generation of leaders thanks to heroes like Margaret. 

5. Andy Simpson

The Wild Network, London

Andy has been pivotal in helping hatch The Wild Network - a movement seeking to help re-connect kids with nature. After retiring from the RSPB, where he'd spent his career working on education and nature connection in kids, he's put an enormous amount of energy into his volunteer role. In his role as Head of Youth and Education Andy was instrumental in organising the RSPB children and nature study that looked into how connected the younger generation is to nature. The study created a nationwide baseline of children’s nature connection and is one of the most important and ground breaking studies in this area. Andy has spent his life introducing children to nature with The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the RSPB, where he was responsible for Wildlife Explorers, RSPB’s junior club with over 200,000 members and most recently as Chair of The Wild Network. Helping to establish the network, chair the meetings and progress the start-up to the pivotal position it is in now, with over 1,000 organisations and 6,000 individuals- all during his retirement. 


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