Volunteering with wildlife helps turn lives around

Volunteers from Richmond Fellowship’s services in Dorset have taken part in conservation tasks with Dorset Wildlife Trust, to help aid their recovery from mental health problems.

A group of service users from our Dorset community-based scheme worked on an area of land recently acquired by The Erica Trust, as an extension to the ‘Happy Bottom’ nature reserve in Corfe Mullen.  The volunteering activity, which is part of the Great Heath Living Landscape project, helped to clear Himalayan Balsam – an invasive species which smothers native plants.

Eric Longworth, who has anxiety and depression, has been volunteering with Dorset Wildlife Trust through our scheme for six months.  He said: “Doing this work outside gives me peace of mind and clarity.  It helps lift my worries.  I would recommend it to anyone trying to overcome anxiety – it’s hard to make the first jump, but works well alongside my medication and it’s a distraction from the things that worry me.  Every time I come out, I learn something different – I saw a bee orchid the other day, which I had never seen before.”

In 2011 Richmond Fellowship volunteers were awarded Dorset Wildlife Trust’s ‘Helen Brotherton’ group volunteering award, in recognition of their commitment and enthusiasm towards wildlife.

Sally Wright, community conservation officer for The Great Heath Living Landscape Project, said: “It’s a real pleasure working with the volunteers from Richmond Fellowship. some are starting our Wildlife Champions award scheme, to recognise their hard work and give them confidence to share their new skills with others in the community.”

Neil Gibson, a Richmond Fellowship community link worker, said: “Volunteering outside is a way to make new friends, socialise and develop an interest in wildlife.  We don’t talk about mental health whilst on volunteering tasks, as spending time outdoors is a good distraction, which can help with recovery.  We like working as a team to help each other out, and are very grateful to the Dorset Wildlife Trust wardens, who are always very accommodating.”