Spending a day with River the Guardians | Nature for Health

© Graham Davies

Our intern Sam takes you through his experience of volunteering with the Our River Wellbeing project.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got the invitation to volunteer with a group of strangers on a project about River Wellbeing. I sort of thought that I’d quite quickly become one of many, working seriously yet passionately on removing some plants from a riverside, with the only true voices coming from the birds above. This isn’t to say I thought it’d be unpleasant or boring, just that I imagined it to be focused exclusively on the work at hand. Well thankfully, I was absolutely and unequivocally wrong.

After turning up 10 minutes late, I was greeted by a car park full of smiling, socially-distanced strangers, kitted out in everything from waterproof overalls and thick hats, to regular jeans and rugged walking-boots. After stumbling into the action, saying hello and listening to Helen Carter-Emsell, today's project officer, give a little introduction on the plan of the day, we all walked towards a wooded area, chatting and introducing ourselves to each other as we went. The main task of the day was to carry out some tree maintenance and that’s what I’d prepared myself for. However, this expectation quickly changed when we arrived at the location. At its centre was a hand-crafted, wooden, communal paradise. It had a large canopy over the area, a large pond to its side and woodland all around it. Dotted around the site were bird boxes, wood heaps for insects, metal sheeting for reptiles and all sorts of other wildlife-supporting infrastructure. Within 10 minutes, Helen, pointed out a Buzzard gliding overhead. It was the perfect retreat from my regular routine.

The project I volunteered for is called the River Wellbeing Project and, as you could probably already guess, it focuses on more than just hand-to-land work. The project is equally concerned with making sure that its volunteers end the session feeling better than they did when it began. That’s a big part of why the space had been created, to make it a welcoming, supportive and comfortable area for volunteers to relax in. As we all gathered in the area, spaced out with our own personal seating, Helen let us know that we could do a number of tasks and didn’t need to work on the trees if we didn’t want to. Because I was new there, I thought I’d start by chatting to some of the other volunteers as they got on with different jobs such as lighting a fire, making hazel hurdles or, as I was eventually doing, creating wooden stakes to hold steps in place.

The volunteers explained to me, individually and as a group, that this day of volunteering was their favourite day of the week, for some even of the month. It was a chance for them to take a break from the world. To engage with something simple, something that you could start and end in a few hours. Helen made sure we all knew that we could be as involved as we wanted to. There were separate places on the site where you could just sit by yourself to watch the action and the wildlife. As the day continued, more and more laughter was heard, not as a result of anything noteworthy, it was just coming from a group of people who were enjoying getting on with some simple jobs together. Overall, my experience there was outstanding. I felt immediately comfortable and also strongly engaged with the collective passion of the volunteers for wildlife and their conservation.

What’s more, being immersed in nature felt really great for my health and wellbeing. As it’s a huge passion of mine, I spoke to some of the volunteers about it. How I thought that health and wellbeing should be a big focus for conservation charities due to the mutual benefit that comes from human beings supporting nature. I believe that when you support nature, you’re in turn, supporting your own health and wellbeing. The rest of the volunteers really understood this message and agreed that nature does wonders for their health too. One story in particular, from a 28 year old named Carl, really struck me. His story will be posted in another blog. Like me, he truly felt that nature had significantly contributed to his recovery from ill-health. It reinforced my belief that nature’s positive effect on our health and wellbeing isn’t some romantic folkstory. It's a concrete fact that science continues to provide evidence for every day. 

Moving forward, I want to encourage you, particularly if you aren’t feeling your best, to find out about local volunteering opportunities with the Trust by clicking the link below. You might also like to learn more about nature and its effect on our health so consider visiting our new webpage, Nature for Health too. On it, you’ll find the science, the inspiration and the guidance needed to get you excited about nature and its ability to make us healthier, happier and more fulfilled.

If you've made it this far. Thanks for your time. 

Sending my best,
Sam