Volunteering at Size of Wales

Olivia Herford writes about her experience volunteering for the charity Size of Wales through the Government Statistical Service Analytical Volunteer Programme.

Women bending to tend to plants in a nursery.
The Bore Community Forest Project in Kenya, one of Size of Wales' forest projects.

Firstly, this probably isn’t your typical environment-related volunteering experience - unfortunately I didn’t get to do any tree-planting myself! As someone who doesn’t work in an environment-focused role, I try to seek opportunities aligned with my interests in other ways. This opportunity came along and ticked so many boxes for me.

I first became aware of Size of Wales through the Government Statistical Service Analytical Volunteer Programme, whereby charities apply for analytical help on projects they may not have the in-house technical knowledge or capacity to complete themselves. The fact that I was able to use this as my Fast Stream corporate objective was an added bonus.

Who are Size of Wales?

Size of Wales is a Welsh climate change and educational charity which started out as a Welsh Government initiative in November 2009, before becoming a registered charity in May 2011.

In a two-phase plan, Size of Wales initially aimed to protect 2 million hectares of tropical forest – the geographical 'size of Wales' is a term often used to describe the annual rate of forest destruction (sadly it is now more akin to the size of the UK [1]). After successfully achieving this, the second phase aim, beginning in April 2013, saw the target increase to 4 million hectares - a feat which was achieved in 2016/17 and has been maintained thus far. Size of Wales’ role is to facilitate engagement between charitable organisations engaging in suitable projects and the wider community, with a view to providing financial and other support for the projects.

They currently have 9 flagship projects running; however, they have supported 22 projects across 17 different countries spanning Africa, South America and south-east Asia. The forest projects aim to tackle forest loss using the following approaches:

  1. Establishing land rights for indigenous peoples

  2. Supporting sustainable community forest management

  3. Strengthening protected area management by engaging local populations

  4. Planting trees to stabilise soils and increase local incomes

On the educational side, Size of Wales highlights the issues of climate change through their education programme, awareness raising events and online presence, while equipping the people of Wales with the tools and knowledge to take action to tackle climate change. By teaching and empowering the people of Wales, they help them to understand the impacts of their day to day life on our global climate, and importantly, what steps they as individuals and small groups can take to tackle this global problem.

Why is their work important?

Forests are key to mitigating against the impacts of climate change by absorbing the carbon dioxide humans emit. Despite this, a recent report has found that up to 26 million hectares of forest are destroyed each year[1]. South America, south-east Asia and Africa, where the forest projects are based, contain the world’s major regions of irreplaceable tropical rainforest vital for biodiversity and carbon storage, but annual tree cover loss remains persistently high here [2].

These projects are tackling a major driver of climate change – carbon dioxide emissions through deforestation. Although estimates vary, forests are thought to store approximately 30% of current global carbon emissions [3] and are widely recognised as important global carbon sinks.

Each of the projects works closely with the indigenous communities who live in and depend upon the forests for their livelihoods. Indigenous peoples often have a sacred connection to these forests and have lived sustainably with the forests for centuries, making them the best conservationists of all. The projects work to empower these communities in a way that enables them to protect these precious forests.

What did I do?

The ask was to produce a 10-year anniversary report covering the excellent work Size of Wales has done over the last decade. It was a real celebration of the work done to protect tropical rainforests, support indigenous communities, and educate children in Wales to the importance of climate change. This encompassed looking into and presenting key statistics including; school children attending workshops, social media reach and funding for forest projects, alongside those directly relating to the forest projects.

Admittedly, a highlight was learning about the various forest projects Size of Wales has supported, what their key challenges and aims have been and how many hectares of rainforest they help to protect. Examples of specific aims include: training and equipping community teams to carry out biomonitoring of forests in DRC; legally securing land rights of ancestral land for the forest-dwelling Wapichan community of Guyana; or planting 10 million tress in Mbale, Uganda (the target was achieved in 2019 and has now been upped to 25 million by 2025!).

I enjoyed the experience so much I plan to stay on and continue helping in any way that I can, be that in an analytical capacity or otherwise. One day I hope to visit some of the forest projects in person!

Image credits: Size of Wales/Community Carbon Link, Kenya Bore Community Forest Project, 2019

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[1] Progress on the New York Declaration on Forests, Protecting and Restoring Forests: A Story of Large Commitments yet Limited Progress (2019).

[2] World Resources Institute and Global Forest Watch (2019).

[3] Pan, Y. et al. Science (2011).