Hear from one of our volunteers about his experience at the Tortworth Forest Centre.

 

I have been volunteering at Tortworth Arboretum for just over a year now, more recently joining the weekly Woodland Management group.

Prior to my volunteering here I was struggling with alcohol addiction and mental health issues. These issues are ongoing, but I have been slowly and surely learning to manage them with more success. I am certain that my volunteering at the arboretum has been and continues to be instrumental in my recovery.

Volunteering affords me the opportunity to join with others and contribute to the excellent work taking place here. Connecting with a diverse range of people – some of whom have experience of similar issues – in a welcoming and salubrious setting, has been key for me.

The work is varied – my tasks have included Japanese knotweed removal, preparing logs for step building, making silver birch brash parcels and helping to plant a pear tree – one is able to work at a comfortable pace and contribute whatever relevant skills they possess. It’s an ideal environment too for developing and acquiring new and transferable skills.

My interpersonal skills and ability to communicate effectively with others as part of a team have greatly improved, as has my general ability for problem solving and seeing tasks through to completion.

Physically, mentally and spiritually, volunteering here has been very beneficial. Being close to and working with nature is therapeutic, and it’s often a great release to get out of the frenetic urban landscape and into a living, peaceful and beautiful environment.

There have been some special moments as I think back over my time volunteering here. Last December, shortly before Christmas, we were treated to mulled apple juice (non-alcoholic!) and chestnuts around the campfire, whereupon an impromptu festive singalong broke out. The eccentric gambolling of the goats often induces a raised eyebrow or two. One morning, after I had been taught how to start the campfire using just flint and steel, one of the goats suddenly and inexplicably decided to take a running leap over the kindled flames.

Quite recently, there was a short detour on the way to the arboretum to visit the ancient and renowned Tortworth chestnut. This was followed by a visit from a tree expert who was interested in dating the sweet chestnuts in the arboretum and establishing a direct genetic link between these trees and the aforementioned Tortworth chestnut.

An aura of magic surrounded the day I encountered fly agaric mushrooms – the kind associated with fairies – and dragonflies for the first time. The occasional exploratory tree identification walks have been a highlight too. Jacob’s knowledge of the various tree species and history of the arboretum is extensive, and the throng of volunteers are held in rapt attention. On one of these walks, I caught sight of a muntjac deer, just for a fleeting moment.

 

Steve volunteers with us on our monthly Volunteer Conservation Days, which are open to all and funded by the Nineveh Charitable Trust. He is has also joined our Management Days funded by Big Lottery. For information on either of these please contact bec@tortwortharboretum.org.