Volunteering in lockdown

Helen Bigham

May 2020

At Suntrap we’ve always known that being outdoors is good for your mental health, but that’s only one reason to visit our local green spaces to get your daily exercise. A recent study shows that people who have access to nature or urban green spaces are much more likely to behave in environmentally friendly ways. The findings also identified that people who were not exposed to green spaces were less likely to adopt eco-friendly behaviours, such as recycling.

During lockdown as more people have been using the forest, litter in green spaces has increased. There was already concern; in February at a community litter pick around Highams Park, volunteers cleared waste that had been fly-tipped from houses backing on to Epping Forest. Alison Baker, a local resident who co-ordinates these regular events, said: “Among the rubbish were kitchen units, a sink and a toilet. We’re so fortunate to have this beautiful forest on our doorstep and it's so sad to see it ruined by a few thoughtless individuals.”

It’s not just adults that need educating. Before lockdown on a forest visit with Suntrap a child dropped a plastic wrapper and, when asked to pick it up, explained that leaving it in the forest meant it wouldn’t end up in the sea killing the fish. Pupils are showing confusion on ways to help address the climate and ecological emergency, and they’re increasingly concerned for the future of the planet.

Experts have warned parents against “terrifying” their youngsters with talk of climate catastrophe. Apocalyptic forecasts by activists such as Greta Thunberg are being relayed by parents in ways that are not “age appropriate”. This is triggering mental health problems, leading to a rising number of children being treated for “eco anxiety”. The Climate Psychology Alliance recommends discussing the issues responsibly with children, without scaring them, and explaining how to take practical steps to make a difference, such as by cutting down on non-recyclable waste and buying locally grown food.

One way to get involved in a whole family volunteer opportunity is to combat the loss of bird species in a real-life practical way. Pigeons and seagulls are everywhere but small garden birds live here too. There is good evidence that bird feeders provide a powerful tool for connecting people to nature. The Suntrap at Home page has advice on how to make them using recycled material. Other projects include bug hotels and wormeries.

Alternatively create floral havens for butterflies and bees using wildflower seed bombs. Select bare soil, natural light and make sure they are kept damp whilst growing. Hopefully some of these ideas have inspired you to make small acts of kindness for nature in your neighbourhood. In this time of isolation, volunteering to support and reconnect with nature can make a real difference to ensure we have a sustainable future.