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When Helen and I took the universal advice from the newly retired fraternity to “keep active and fill your days with varied, interesting and worthwhile activities” we jumped at the chance.  However, despite both being keen cyclists and having other interests in common, we were surprised to realise that whilst we both had lots of interests and kept ourselves busy, we weren’t doing much together.

A shared passion for the Forest
All that changed when, through a friend (and via a snippet on BBC Countryfile) we discovered the Heart of England Forest.  Here immediately was what we were looking for; a massively worthwhile outdoor activity, which we would both enjoy. Volunteering quickly became our regular go to Thursday morning destination.

Mike and Helen centre with fellow volunteers at the Heart of England Forest tree nursery.

Mike and Helen centre with fellow volunteers at the Heart of England Forest tree nursery.

One of the great things about the Heart of England Forest is the flexibility, in that volunteers don’t need to decide and commit weeks in advance. Generally, if we are around, we let the volunteer coordinator know and go along. Sometimes it’s just one of us and other times I might go on Tuesday instead of, or as well as, Thursday. The flexibility also extends to the actual tasks. Often at any one session there is choice of things to do, some more physical than others, but all equally rewarding and worthwhile.

We have almost been twice around the year’s cycle now and the variety of tasks and locations has been very wide ranging. I’ve been weeding at the tree nursery, clearing bracken, collecting acorns and of course there’s the annual winter tree planting season between November and March. Other volunteers have focused on the many wildlife surveys that are now being undertaken to understand what wildlife is already present in the different parts of the Forest, and how the Forest is having a positive impact. A personal favourite task of mine is clearing around and then removing stakes and tubes from established young trees – somehow incredibly satisfying – setting them on their way to becoming mature trees over the decades to come.

Planting a new part of the Forest during a volunteer day in December at Sheriffs Lench, Worcestershire.

Planting a new part of the Forest during a volunteer day in December at Sheriffs Lench, Worcestershire.

Whether planting saplings, or working with young established trees, it’s immensely fulfilling and sometimes quite stunning to look back at what a team of a dozen or so volunteers have achieved in a few hours. Although of course there is always loads more to do!

You get to meet lots of interesting people, of all kinds of ages and backgrounds, and the general working banter and chat with other volunteers and staff makes for a wonderfully satisfying day, even when it’s cold and raining.

What motivates us to go out planting trees on a cold, muddy, wet and windy winter’s day?
Well, it’s not just a weakness for dressing up in wellies and our oldest waterproofs. Almost universally it’s a firmly held belief that, in a complicated world, we are doing something good and positive for the future.

It might sound a bit trite, but no matter what the weather, when Felix Dennis said something along the lines of “he that plants a tree winks at immortality” he pretty much hit the nail on the head.  We’ve done a lot of winking this year already.

Mike and Helen Hudson
Volunteers at the Heart of England Forest

If you have made a New Year’s Resolution to help the environment, become fit and healthy or to do your bit to make a difference in the world, the volunteer opportunities on offer at the Heart of England Forest could be exactly what you are looking for.  For more information or to register your interest in becoming a volunteer with us, visit our web site www.heartofenglandforest.com/get-involved/volunteering/