Engaging Environments & Earthwatch: seeking nature, finding community

Soft focus image of two people in a green field

What motivates people to take part in green space volunteering opportunities? The second post in a blog series about the Engaging Environments project in Birmingham written by our former Community Engagement Officer, Rob Tilling.

Sarah* is a habitual volunteer. She will happily attend green space volunteering activities three or four times a week. Her drive is really strong given that she is over a decade into retirement. Her work in green space is vigorously and enthusiastically undertaken and she is a very sociable community member. Her drive, however, appears to be linked heavily to the people that she expects to encounter in these green spaces and the work carried out is less of a reason to be present at work days.

Sarah is enthusiastic about the area and green spaces in the area in a way that is similar to many other volunteers; they see a problem and they want to do something. The opinions on what these problems are can be varied but generally follow a logical progression:

Litter and dog poo are spoiling this area

Is mowing the grass really necessary? Wild flowers might be nicer

Tree planting is very important!

Saving the world is easier than I thought! I can help reduce the speed at which the natural world is being destroyed and degraded.

Graphic with the following quote: "Linking the, sometimes tacit, agreement with the work we carry out in green spaces and the need to meet other people can have a powerful effect upon people’s likelihood to volunteer."

Linking the, sometimes tacit, agreement with the work we carry out in green spaces and the need to meet other people can have a powerful effect upon people’s likelihood to volunteer. Often, volunteers are living alone or have a problem they need to deal with at home that green space volunteering can remove them from temporarily. Volunteers do sometimes speak together about how our work is “therapy” and even boldly state this on occasion. The Covid-19 pandemic increased social isolation suddenly and dramatically and being able to find a reason to be with other people in a relaxing, outdoor setting was greatly appreciated by many volunteers. Some volunteers during the worst of the 2020 restrictions were referred by other organisations, since they were actively seeking a place to be near other people, safe, purposeful and “in nature”.

Personality can sometimes lead to significantly reduced social networks, and large numbers of our volunteers might be described as a little introverted; having a reason to interact with others is hugely beneficial to people struggling to engage in their communities.

*name has been changed to protect anonymity