A week in the life of a Healing Nature Project Officer

A week in the life of a Healing Nature Project Officer

There is no typical week for our conservation team. In this blog, one of our Healing Nature Project Officers, Alison Laing, details some of the exciting and varied tasks she has undertaken so far. Alison provides insight into just how much a conservation officer can achieve in one week, with a helping hand from our fabulous volunteers!

Time flies when you’re having fun and that’s certainly true of the last 5 months of working on the Healing Nature Project. 

To introduce myself, I’m Alison Laing and I am one of the Healing Nature Project Officers. Alongside my fellow Project Officer, Mandy Bell, we plan and undertake the habitat management tasks across the 20 Healing Nature Sites.  Some of you may recognise me as the past Volunteer Conservation Trainee based at Low Barns. 

Now that we are getting back to something resembling normality, with greater numbers of volunteers allowed on sites, we wanted to share what a week in the life of a Project Officer is like and what we get up to behind the scenes. 

Monday: Litter Picking at Children’s Forest, Pennywell, Sunderland 

First job of the week is to check any emails that might have come in over the weekend and check the number of people booked onto the week's tasks. We pack the vehicle ready for the day's tasks – litter pickers, bin bags, litter hoops and we are off to site. That day we were off to Children’s Forest in Pennywell. 

Children's forest is a large patch of woodland which was planted approximately 20 years ago and is now well used by locals.  Unfortunately, it has been subject to fly tipping and littering and so needed a good clean. We have so far had several days of litter picking here and we have been joined by lots of local people who care about the site as well as lots of our own dedicated DWT volunteers. 

Tuesday: Fencing at Chopwell Meadows, Gateshead 

Tuesday we were off to one of the most picturesque sites, Chopwell Meadows in Chopwell, Gateshead with views down the valley across Milkwelburn wood, towards Ebchester and beyond. 

We were joined by some of our regular Durham Wildlife Trust volunteers for today’s task, as well as a few new friendly additions – highland cows, as well as a fleeting glimpse of a red kite. You can read more about red kites at Chopwell in Mandy’s blog: Spectacular buzzards and soaring red kites: the wonders of Gateshead during spring. | Durham (durhamwt.com) 

For today's task, we were taking down some old, rotten, trampled fencing from around some blocks of trees and replacing it with new fencing. We’ve been busy with this task for several weeks, so it was great to see the finished product.  It’s always a pleasure to work at this peaceful site with great scenery and wildlife. 

Wednesday: Litter picking, Warden Law Quarry, and Barmston Pond  

Wednesday was another day of litter picking, but today we were at two separate Sunderland sites for a shorter session; one in the morning and one in the afternoon, which is perfect for the volunteers who can spare a couple of hours on a morning/afternoon but not a full day.  

We began the day at Barmston Pond Local Nature Reserve, which is a large pond surrounded by herb-rich neutral grassland with several bird watching screens. We litter picked along the paths and collected a surprising amount of litter in the hedgerows and ditches which appears to have been blown in from the nearby road. The site is well looked after by local people, dog walkers, and bird watchers and so the litter was mostly hidden well away in the hedges and ditches. Walking around the perimeter path we spied several nesting waterfowl and a few chicks swimming across the pond. On the way back to the vehicles, we stumbled across our first spotted orchid of the year, a sign that the weather was finally changing. 

Spotted Orchid

In the afternoon we headed across to Warden Law Quarry for our second litter pick of the day. The site is a bit of a hidden gem with many local people unaware of its existence. The site was generally clear of litter apart from a small bit of ancient fly-tipping, until we stumbled across an abandoned party complete with two tents, plenty of drinks bottles strewn across the site, and an unfinished kebab! 

Fly tipping - Warden Law

Whilst carrying our litter haul back to the vehicle we sighted a Dingy skipper, a great end to the day. 

Dingy Skipper

Thursday: Guided Walk and Litter Pick, Copt Hill & Seven Sisters 

On Thursday we ran a guided walk and a litter pick around Copt Hill & the Seven Sisters as well as a quick detour into Rough Dene – a beautiful patch of woodland in between Houghton-le-Spring and Hetton-le-Hole that many locals don’t even know exists. We litter picked along the main footpath and then walked up to the seven sisters – of which there are only six remaining and took in the view. 

We followed the footpath and crossed the stile into Rough Dene – a beautiful patch of ancient semi-natural woodland on a steep-sided valley surrounding Rough Dene Burn. The woodland floor was carpeted in wood anemone and bluebell. 


Then it was finally back to base for our weekly team meeting where we have a catch-up and discuss any updates we may have and any events we have planned. 

Friday: Office Day  

Friday is our office day where we catch up with any emails and paperwork that needs doing. We spend the day sorting out our detailed plan for the following week and a rough plan for the next several weeks. Then we have risk assessments to complete, events to advertise, blogs to write, and new volunteers to reply to.  

If we have time, we will occasionally pop out for a site check to quickly measure up some fencing or to do a site walkover or a quick plant survey, etc. It’s also a good time to ask suppliers for quotes for materials such as fence posts needed for tasks coming up in the next couple of months. 

Saturday/ Sunday:  

Every few weeks, we run an extra event on a weekend with volunteers from the local community. On this Saturday we had a litter pick along some of our sites that follow the River Don starting at Jarrow in South Tyneside; River Don Saltmarsh, Church Bank, Straker Street, and Cemetery Road. The event was well attended by locals who spend lots of time using the sites for dog walking, exercising, and watching the fantastic birdlife.  

And that’s a quick guide to the week in a life of a Healing Nature Project Officer in the springtime. As the seasons change, the tasks we do will change and we will have lots of different tasks coming up in a few months such as grassland management and scrub control. If you would like to get involved keep an eye on the Durham Wildlife Trust events page to see what tasks we have coming up: Events | Durham (durhamwt.com) 

Or email us at healingnature@durhamwt.co.uk