Meet the volunteer: Joanne Backshall

Joanne Backshall
What made you decide to volunteer at Durrell?

I read Gerald Durrell’s books as a child and loved them! I’d always loved animals and the outdoors, and the books inspired me to follow a career in conservation, which I achieved and enjoyed in the UK for 35 years.

When my husband had the opportunity to work in Jersey, I was thrilled to be able to fulfil a lifelong dream of “working” at Jersey Zoo as a volunteer. 

I am delighted to do my bit to further the Trust’s wonderful global conservation work, to help increase understanding and support for environmental protection, and to help save species from extinction.

Tell us a bit about your volunteering journey at Durrell so far

I started volunteering at Jersey Zoo in the Durrell Charity Shop. It is such a joy volunteering there because the people and shop are so wonderful. The shop contributes to the Trust’s funds for global conservation work. It also helps to reuse and recycle all sorts of items on the beautiful island of Jersey, which is excellent for people and the planet. I love volunteering in the shop and am generally there three afternoons a week.

I soon found a second volunteering role at the zoo, chopping fruit for the tropical birds one afternoon a week. This is fun and interesting because I learn a little more about the inner workings of the zoo and its wonderful animals. All the staff are so passionate, dedicated and devoted to the animals in their care and so much hard work and effort goes into looking after each and every one, it is wonderful to see.

I also undertake a third volunteering role, assisting with administrative tasks in the Durrell Conservation Academy one morning a week. The Academy has a very impressive number of courses and students involved in training and learning about global conservation throughout the year. This involves conservation professionals from all over the world, carrying out amazing work in amazing places, and learning and sharing experience and expertise. It is truly inspiring and humbling to witness.

Tell us about your volunteering highlights

I love the sense of family and community in all the staff, students and volunteers at Durrell. Everyone I have come across has been friendly, welcoming, appreciative, supportive and genuinely passionate about the work of the zoo and the wider Trust. It is heartwarming and very fulfilling to be part of this team of people and their work.

How has volunteering at Durrell supported your personal life?

I moved to Jersey in 2023 and I knew no one on the island. I was warmly welcomed into the zoo as a volunteer within my first week.  Volunteering at Durrell has given me an instant community of lovely friends and provided a very satisfying purpose and structure to my time here. I have a variety of interesting and enjoyable tasks and experiences. I am also able to use some of the skills and expertise gained in my own career in conservation.

Bali Starling 2021 04
What do you do in an average day when you volunteer?

On Monday afternoons I chop fruit for the tropical birds in the bird department's kitchen. This takes about two hours because all the fruit has to be chopped very small to avoid waste. Other volunteers and students are always helping too and it is fun to chat to everyone else involved.

In the afternoons on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays I generally help in the Durrell Charity Shop. This involves sorting out donations, hanging clothes ready for sale, putting items on to the shop floor, working on the tills, helping customers with enquiries, and tidying the shop. It is fascinating to see the amazing variety of items which come in and go out of the shop. All the staff, volunteers and customers are lovely!

On Thursday mornings from 9am to 1 pm I help with administrative tasks in the Durrell Conservation Academy. This involves helping to manage information on courses and students, updating spreadsheets and databases, and creating and printing documents for courses. It is fascinating to hear about the many activities of Durrell across the world, to meet some of the tutors and students on the courses, and to learn about the excellent conservation work carried out by Durrell globally.

What advice would you give someone looking to start volunteering at Durrell?

I would thoroughly recommend volunteering at Durrell. There is something for everyone, with a great variety of tasks on offer and flexibility to suit your circumstances. There is a very warm welcome, a lovely family and community feel, and a worthwhile and fulfilling way to spend your time. It provides an opportunity to help and give something back to the precious and beautiful world we inhabit.