When the going gets tough, the tough go green…
As Aldo Leopold, the great environmental ethicist, wrote: “Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.” With this, it is impossible to argue, since we all know just how much good the fresh air does us and, on top of that, what a world of good this dedication to getting out in the fresh air can do for the green spaces around us. Volunteering with nature is a great way to get outdoors during these warmer months and lighter evenings, not to mention to experience the breath-taking start of spring. However, even more than this, these individuals who volunteer in the scope of conservation represent a collective awareness of how lucky we are to live in a city like London – a sprawling metropolis stuffed full with opportunity, yet one which prides itself on maintaining the abundance of green outdoor space on offer.
The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), a longstanding national organisation, have their heart set in reclaiming and maintaining green areas. Around London, this is done by some outdoorsy, committed tidying up and efficient reorganisation, alongside slight changes such as adding wheelchair access or turning the soil for beds to be planted. These endeavours ensure these spaces remain usable for afternoon walks, environmental educational projects and growing schemes, as well as continuing to be suitable homes for the wealth of wildlife that need them. Whether you’re looking to clean, green, plant, rejuvenate or just get outside and meet some like-minded folk, the best thing about being part of TCV is that it’s all done on an ad hoc basis – just head to the website, type in your postcode and see what’ opportunities are coming up near you!
If the idea of doubling up – getting fit whilst ‘getting green’ – appeals, then look no further than TCV’s Green Gym initiative. Simultaneously improve your own health and the environment, making use of London’s fair (ish!) spring/summer weather by performing physical jobs in the outdoors.
The Canal and River Trust offers a bountiful selection of both regular and ad hoc outdoor volunteering that doesn’t have to involve getting yourself muddy. The UK’s waterways date back to pre the Industrial Revolution, so they are full of not only the obvious nature but also serious heritage sites. Be in charge of a ‘welcome station’ informing visitors about the rich history all around them; lead workshops in local schools and afterschool clubs about the importance of our canal culture; tackle towpath litter for the sake of the local wildlife residents as well as any other visitors who make use of these idyllic waterside spots; become a voluntary lock keeper helping to keep these historical waterways moving. Whatever you might fancy, the Canal and River Trust has something to whet your appetite.
Thames 21 has a synonymous aim – the upkeep of Greater London’s rivers, canals, ponds and lakes for the people and wildlife that frequent them. Getting involved couldn’t be easier- you can browse the ad hoc opportunities on offer in the online calendar on the website: find things to get stuck into either on your doorstep or in parts of London (or the UK!) that you’ve been angling for an opportunity to visit. If you’re looking for something a bit more permanent, Thames River Watch is a citizen science project that has been an ongoing investigation of the charity for the last three years. The water quality, the effect of non-native species making home in the river, and the prevalence of litter are all under examination, and all training is provided. Get involved to learn about, nurture and help preserve this channel of water that has contributed to the making of, and continues to add to the visual definition of, our city!
An alternative to pure maintenance of the history and existence of London’s greenery is to push forwards with it, conscious of what these spaces, with a little love, could be providing for the future. Fresh produce that hasn’t been covered in pesticide, travelled tens if not hundreds of miles to make it to our kitchens, filled up our earth with waste in exchange for filling us up with goodness, has really come into its own. We need this sort of food – not only for ourselves but for the sustainability of the planet.
Take OrganicLea, a-market-food-producing-farm on the edge of London. The volunteers are integral to each part of the process – from growing the greens to packing the boxes for those signed up for their weekly fresh vegetable instalment; from cooking from the farm’s own produce for the day’s volunteers to serving on the stall at Stoke Newington Farmer’s Market every Saturday. The days of action are Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays so, if any of these might work for you, have a perusal online and decide which part of this local food cooperative you want to dig into.
Growing Communities is a Hackney-based social enterprise that joins OrganicLea at Stokey’s Saturday Farmer’s Market as well as, similarly, creating weekly veg boxes that come straight to your local pick-up point. All too aware of how damaging the current system of getting food to us is, they are working to find long lasting alternatives by supplying fresh, quality produce, grown locally, to anyone who wants in. Their bank of enthusiastic and regular volunteers helps the growers forge forwards, changing the way every one of our dinners makes it to our doors. There are three different garden locations in Hackney, operating on a variety of days and, once inducted, you can volunteer at any of them. This is a great chance to learn hands-on gardening and growing whilst rubbing shoulders with environmentally like-minded others. Get involved and start getting green and grubby!
Any one of these acts of planetary love in this enormous city doesn’t just begin to rectify the environmental wrongs being done for our generation, it will begin to rectify them for generations to come. Margaret Mead was all too aware of this, and it is here that I will end my piece, as she is able to say it all far more succinctly than I ever could: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”