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Working Environment

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Councillor Jo Blackman, Cabinet Member for Environment and Sustainability, shares her journey of reconnecting with nature through local volunteer conservation work

The state of the world, degradation of the environment and climate doom can leave us feeling anxious and frustrated. Our busy lives and over-exposure to the digital world can also take its toll on our stress levels and mental health. But it is well documented that connecting to the environment can decrease stress and improve your mental health. Being in nature brings benefits, as does the physical exercise of the activity we undertake there. 

Whilst I spend a lot of time working on environmental policy as cabinet member for the environment on Redbridge Council, and through my work with environmental charities, too little of my time is spent actually in the environment. So, I recently dedicated two days to help two charities with local conservation work. 

I spent a day in waders with the river charity Thames21, an organisation helping to bring stakeholders together to look after our rivers. We helped enhance the habitat in the River Roding adjacent to Wanstead Park by installing deflectors, which are basically logs secured to the riverbed, providing a home for wildlife and slowing the flow of the river. I spent another day on dry land helping the Epping Forest Heritage Trust (where I am a trustee) conserve the acid grasslands – which also provide a vital habitat for nature – by removing saplings and clearing bramble. 

On both days we were joined by volunteers, some local and some from further afield, a mix of ages, backgrounds and professions. All shared the common desire to get out from behind their desks and do something to help the environment. Very few of us had any previous conservation experience and both charities provided all the equipment and advice needed. Whilst the work would have been very slow going individually, as a group, we made good progress. After several hours, we were able to look proudly at the contribution we had made to conserving these important spaces. It gave me fresh insights into the challenges facing nature in our urban environment – including climate change, litter, invasive species and pollution. And it renewed my resolve to do all I can in my work as a councillor, as well as with charities, to preserve and enhance our environment.

Many companies allow staff to spend one or two days a year volunteering, though many people don’t take advantage of this. There are also opportunities to volunteer with Vision in the Roding Valley and other Redbridge parks as part of their conservation work. And for those who can’t devote a whole day, there are plenty of opportunities locally to spend an hour or two helping out – with our amazing community gardeners or litter pickers.


Jo Blackman is Labour councillor for Wanstead Village ward.

For more information on conservation volunteering, follow the links below:

Epping Forest Heritage Trust

Thames21

Vision RCL

Litter picking sessions also take place in Wanstead on the third Saturday of each month. For more information, email Jo.Blackman@redbridge.gov.uk