Welcome to our 2015 Advent Calendar series (#AFONAdvent)! For each day in the lead-up to Christmas, we have a post from an A Focus On Nature member on this year’s Advent theme: “The Gift of Giving”. We hope that you enjoy the series and have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
As we approach Christmas, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be frantically trying to pick out presents for your family and friends before the big day arrives. Stressing over what presents to give people, whether or not they’ll enjoy them. Then, Christmas Day arrives, and it doesn’t really matter anymore. Everyone’s in a good mood, opening presents, eating lots of food and generally enjoying their surroundings. The great feeling you get from that atmosphere is all that remains. I think that our relationship with nature can be the same way.
At the moment, I’m currently a trainee with Dorset Wildlife Trust, learning the ropes to (hopefully!) make me a fully-fledged conservationist. In my role, I’ve been lucky to meet a really wide range of people with different relationships with wildlife. Often, the people I meet are volunteers – fantastic individuals that come and help us out for free. The time, energy and commitment they give are a real gift for nature.
For example, recently I’ve been going out with volunteer work parties to remove invasive rhododendron from a reserve in east Dorset. Rhododendrons are native to parts of southern Europe and south-west Asia, and are evergreen plants with beautiful purple blooms. The Victorians rather admired them and decided to bring them back to adorn their gardens. This proved a rather unwelcome gift for the UK’s wildlife. Rhododendron is a super-competitor against our native flora. It is fast growing, shades out other plants, and its leaves poison the soil, making it almost impossible for anything else to survive. The Victorians should have kept the receipt!
With the volunteers help, we’ve managed to clear huge swathes of ‘rhodie’ from the reserve. This work will offer huge hope for the wildlife of Dorset. Work can now begin to restore this space into habitat which will provide a home for a plethora of native species. Without the volunteers, this process would have been long and painstaking, but their help and enthusiasm has made the world of difference.
So, why do the volunteers do what they do? I’ve been chatting with them over the past few months to understand their motivation for coming out and doing practical conservation. Many people feel driven to do something to help wildlife, but there are other reasons too; meeting new people and socialising with friends, seeing new parts of the countryside and visiting new reserves, having the time to get outdoors, discovering new wildlife and keeping fit and healthy. These are the gifts that nature gives back. Even if you’re like me, volunteering or training, nature gives you the gift of experience to take you forward in conservation.
Exchanging gifts with nature essentially strengthens our relationship with it. By getting involved in conserving wildlife, and feeling the benefits of being outdoors, we make nature front-and-centre in our lives. We go forward with a stake in nature, and become ever more passionate about preserving and celebrating it, because it is integral to our lives. It becomes like another family member to pass a present to across the Christmas table, and you always know what to get them, and that you’ll get something incredible in return!
Right, I best get back to trying to get presents for the rest of the family…