Standing alongside the DWT Land Rover, Ali and I waited with some trepidation at the edge of Colliery Woods. The equipment to be used was laid out neatly on the ground in anticipation of the group’s imminent arrival: loppers, bow saws, helmets and gloves- the tool store at Rainton Meadows had been emptied. The only thing missing was the afternoon’s group of volunteers.
As we peered along the dark, tree-lined footpath we saw a small, strange fluorescent light dancing in the distance. As it got closer, the light got brighter and brighter. Soon the whole path looked as if it was floodlit. Very quickly, we realized that these were our afternoon group of volunteers from Asda; kitted out in fluorescent tops, wearing backpacks, brimming with enthusiasm and arriving for work. Ali and I soon had the 22 volunteers; whom managed Asda’s stores from the Tyne to the Tees; kitted out with helmets and an assortment of tools and headed to the designated Local Nature Reserve.
On arrival at the ‘meadow’, a forest of trees greeted them as we explained the task: to restore the meadow to its former glory by removing some of the shrubs and trees. Their faces told us exactly what they were thinking- what had they signed up for and that this was a task far beyond their capabilities. Ali gave a tool talk, explaining how to use each of the tools and asked them to work in pairs. The group was fairly quiet as they walked into the ‘meadow’ but that soon changed as they started to use the loppers and bowsaws to remove the scrub. Working in pairs and small teams the ‘meadow’ was filled with laughter and banter as they sawed down the scrub, cut up the branches and dragged them into the woods to form habitat piles. Within two hours, the area had been transformed and looked much more like a meadow. Heading back to the main gate, the difference in the volunteers was also amazing: friendships had been rekindled or forged; they were no longer a group of individuals but a team who had bonded over a shared task and in the process restored a neglected habitat thereby benefiting wildlife. It was a job very well done.