VOLUNTEERS who give up their free time to protect some of Britain’s rarest habitats have received national recognition in a prestigious award scheme.

The group of 17 volunteers from the Heathlands Reunited project were highly commended in the national parks’ volunteer awards, which recognise outstanding contributions across the UK’s 15 parks.

The group was commended for its extensive research into the history of South Downs heathland, culminating in the publication of a fun and informative book now available in libraries, and soon to be circulated to local schools.

Also highly commended were Kirsty Ferris and Cameron Macdonald, who both volunteer as youth ambassadors for South Downs National Park.

Responding to her group’s award, Fernhurst resident Elaine Ireland said: “As a cultural heritage volunteer on the national park’s Heathlands Reunited project, I learned so much about our local heathland through field trips, archive research and oral history. It was a pleasure to volunteer.

“What a wonderful opportunity to volunteer and be guided into turning our research into stories for children – and also be published.”

The book, entitled The Fish, The Goatsucker and The Highwayman, includes stories relating to 18th-century family life on the heath, tales of highwaymen, the Selborne and Headley riots and the Second World War.

Katy Sherman, engagement officer for the lottery-funded Heathlands Reunited project, added: “We are delighted our heritage volunteers were highly commended in the group category, only just missing out on the top spot.

“It’s an amazing achievement, highlighting the unique heritage of the South Downs, thanks to the hard work our volunteers put in to researching and communicating the stories of our heaths.

“Their efforts have facilitated storytelling workshops and the book is available on loan from libraries. It will soon be circulated to local schools and will be an excellent resource for teaching young people about their local heritage.”

Welcoming the commendation for Kirsty and Cameron, Daniel Greenwood, volunteering development officer for South Downs National Park, said: “They have done so much to promote the voice of young people, including giving talks at conferences. Their impact has resulted in a youth volunteering initiative known as South Downs Youth Action.”