From small seeds
PUBLISHED: 09:00 23 January 2014
Meet the green-fingered volunteers who nurture our trees and wildflowers
Words and images: Hannah Stuart-Leach
The whiteboard at the staff shed lists tasks for the day: tidy wildflower beds, weed pots, water Winter veg in poly tunnel and finally – move manure.
Squinting through morning sun, volunteers at the Tree Life Centre, a charity in Kingswood, drink mugs of coffee and, in between conversations, check to see what needs doing.
There are all sorts of people here, from teenagers to retirees. Some have come to this picturesque tree nursery, attached to Grimsby Farm, as part of an accredited horticultural qualification. Others have been referred by agencies. They are all from the surrounding area though, like the seeds they collect to grow native trees and wildflowers before nurturing them to maturity.
Getting stuck in
Two volunteers tell us what they love about working with TCV
ROSE LEWIS COLE
“I love the fact that volunteering here is really practical and hands-on, because I did a degree in conservation that was very theoretical and classroom-based. There was not enough practical and we were always aching to get out into the field. During a three-year degree, I didn’t physically do any coppicing.
So I think this is so, so useful. And also, forces you to get out two days a week and be outside, which in winter – a lot of people just hibernate. For my wellbeing, I need to be outside!
I’ve only been a TCV volunteer for about a month, as part of my diploma in Conservation Management, but we’ve done two or three tasks so far. Coppicing is my favourite because you’re out in the woods.”
“I live in Bath and work three days a week as a primary school teacher. Two days a week I volunteer with TCV – partly because I want to spend time outdoors, rather than inside the classroom or at a desk, but also because I’m interested in ultimately moving into environmental education.
“TCV does taster days and the first one I went on, in September, I learnt so much I wanted to go back. I learnt loads, such as how to use various tools, and lots of information about different types of wood. Since then I’ve done hedge laying, pond clearance and coppicing. I’ve done a few little jobs at the Tree Life Centre, too -it’s a great place.
“TCV volunteers come from all walks of life, all doing it for slightly different reasons, but everyone gets on well and the social aspect is really good. I enjoy the teamwork and also, being on the receiving end of the teaching – it makes a nice change for me!
“I’m relearning things I knew as a kid, like the names of trees and identifying different species. It’s really nice to rekindle all those skills I’d lost over the years.”
The neatly tended plots looking out over fields synonymous with West Country landscapes are soon alive with activity as people pick up tools and get to work. To my surprise, one young chap snaps up a wheelbarrow ready to move the heaps of manure. “It’s my favourite job!” he says as he beams. I manage to catch 22-year-old Holly Vandyke before she dashes off to weed flowerbeds in a peaceful patch round the corner. She is here as part of her diploma in Conservation Management, but that’s not the only reason.
She’s new to the area, and says she wants to get involved in the community she’s become part of. “At university in Brighton I lacked that,” she explains, “now I have the time to give back a little bit, it’s really nice to get out, meet people and do something useful.”
The centre’s umbrella organisation, The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), the UK’s largest environmental volunteering charity, has big plans for volunteers like Holly, who don’t mind being outdoors in cold weather.
Help is not only needed at places such as the Tree Life Centre, where plants and trees are grown to sell, but also for the Big Tree Plant 2014.
This nationwide scheme, stimulated by DEFRA funding, hopes to brighten up Britain’s urban areas with trees including beech, cherry, crab apple and oak. The scale of the project is massive and across the country this winter, TCV will be working with community groups to plant 70,000 trees nationwide – around 150,000 after three years.
The Tree Life Centre, with a remit encompassing Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset & South Gloucestershire, and TCV, are appealing to local enthusiasts for their support. Volunteers are needed to plant the South West’s share of trees for the Big Tree Plant, as well as for additional regional schemes including the Keen to be Green Tree Planting Scheme in collaboration with Western Power (WPD).
“WPD and TCV work together to identify and support tree and hedgerow planting schemes that benefit local communities,” explains Jason Leck, Practical Conservation Training Officer with TCV, adding that although numbers and locations haven’t been confirmed, the partnership has sewn thousands of plants over the past three to four years.
So what’s in it for the volunteers? People gain a lot from planting, says Jason. As well as learning new skills – how to use various tools and identify different species, for example – they enjoy being outdoors, being active and meeting new people. “It brings communities together,” he says, which is evident from the harmonious atmosphere at the Tree Life Centre.
“They also gain a sense of achievement and volunteers always feel good after a rewarding day planting, giving wildlife a helping hand.”
These schemes are a great opportunity to get new groups involved with planting projects, adds the 31-year-old. Communities can either attend organised TCV planting projects or run their own events.
If you’re interested in finding out more or getting involved, he advises contacting your local TCV office (the Somerset office is based in Yeovil, and can be reached on 01935 415255). Donations are always welcome too, and can be made via the charity’s website (tcv.org.uk).