Volunteering for Green London
Green London are an urban eco tours outfit who explore the possibilities of enjoying the hidden green gems of London and leaving a minimal carban footprint. They do internships, too.
What would be your ideal internship? My dream is one that gets you out and about in the beautiful countryside while spreading a positive message about environmental issues. Recently I joined a project called Green London as an intern, and they do just that! They run Urban Eco tours and Day Hikes focusing on the natural world, and are themed around the best bits of wildlife and ecology in and around London. Their mission is to encourage people to enjoy the world we live in while ‘treading lightly’ and considering our impact on the environment. Hence walking tours – the original form of low carbon travel. Even better, 10% of their tour fees go to St. Mungo’s “Putting Down Roots”, an organic gardening project for London’s Homeless.
Day 1: Lea Valley “Urban Hike” Training Session
My first day as an intern with Green London! Exciting! Rather than rocking up at an office I went to meet Catherine, the founder of the company, along with volunteers Rosy and Fran, clad in wellies and waterproofs. Catherine had warned us to expect mud! We were there to investigate the Lea Valley – part of Green London’s mission statement is to engage and inspire people to take action to help the environment, and raise awareness of climate change – so we wanted to find some interesting features to talk about to our tour groups. I was handed a map and compass to practice map-reading skills… which have, I’ll admit, been gathering rust since my teenage years. The weather was blustery as we made our way into the area known by ecologists as ‘the green lungs of London’.
We first followed the canal, a navigation route that runs parallel to the Lea, and were treated to the sight of some cormorants perched beside the water. We passed through Middlesex Filter Beds, rare Reed Warblers can sometimes be seen here. Wrong time of year for them, but we couldn’t miss artist Kate Malone’s ceramic ‘Magic Fish’ peeping out from the reed beds. Already I was feeling more engaged with the natural world than I have been since I moved to London 4 years ago.
Green London volunteering will also take you to beautiful hidden gems like the disused railway line at the old Great Northern Railway
We crossed Hackney Marsh, the Olympic Park visible on the horizon, then followed a tranquil path beside the River Lea lined with Plane and Birch trees and soon reached Walthamstow Marsh, an area of special scientific interest and one of the last surviving patches of marsh habitat in London. I was surprised such a lovely, tranquil green space was not busier; we came across only a few dog walkers.
A fantastic raised boardwalk took us above the marsh level and back alongside the canal, where we found some banks of bulrushes (I’m sure I’ve heard the root is edible…). The pathway took us under a tiny railway bridge, only 5ft high and flooded underneath – welly boots WIN! Just another 10 minutes’ walk past the reservoirs and we were on the edges of Walthamstow.
Overall, I couldn’t have hoped for a better first day. Time flew; I put that down to the good company! I look forward to going back to the marshes and seeing their summer colours, those elusive Reed Warblers and maybe some newts! Do you know what? Being out in the fresh air really does make you happy.
Day 2: Epping Forest Hike
Time for me to experience hiking with a group! We were off to Epping Forest, an area of ancient woodland that borders North East London and Essex and at 6,000 acres one of London’s largest open spaces. Queen Victoria dubbed it ‘the people’s forest’ when she visited there in 1882.
This event was a post-festive season Mince-Pie burn off, and around 30 people from Green London’s friendly and thriving community group joined us. A lovely friendly bunch they were, too.
Minutes out of the station is the Tudor Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. Catherine gave us some interesting background on the history of leisure in the Forest, and we were off at a brisk pace into the trees. Again I was practising my map reading, although Epping Forest is criss-crossed by footpaths the amount of them makes navigating around the area quite tricky, there are many opportunities to take a wrong turn!
The forest is a haven for horse riders, dog walkers, cyclists and hikers like us. It was easy to imagine we were miles from the urban sprawl; part of Green London’s mission is getting people out into these spaces. We took a long path called Green Ride, past Pear Tree Plain (and noted what a lovely picnic spot it would be in the summer) and on to the aptly-named Up and Down Ride.
Old pollarded trees are characteristic of the forest and we saw some good examples, they have knobbly short trunks and many branches. I had done some research and gave a little talk about fungi, as the forest had made the news a few times last year due to illegal foraging. A rare and deadly species called Devil’s Bolete can be found in Epping.
Our lunch stop was a café and pub next to the visitor centre – Is there anything better than a hot cup of tea in the fresh air?! Then we were homeward bound past Grimstone Oak, a tree so big it is marked on the map. Excellent point for navigation! As we approached the end of the walk and the promise of a pub dinner we were treated to a brilliant sunset. Sunshine, happy people, fresh air and the forest – a perfect way to spend a Saturday.
If you’d like to come with us next time, you can join our Green London community group on Meet Up, where you can see details of upcoming hikes and weekends and get to know lots of lovely, likeminded people. You can also check our our Facebook page or follow us on http://twitter.com/#!/GreenLondoner.
Green London are looking for more volunteers – if this seems like your kind of thing e mail Catherine.Baker @ Green-london.org.uk