Heroes of Hertfordshire
On a beautiful October morning, I went to Heartwood Forest. The sun was shining through the yellowing leaves and the ground was muddy underfoot. Walking up the hedge-lined track and past the ancient woodlands, I reached the valley on the most westerly edge of the site. After admiring the view, I made my way down the slope where, despite the peaceful scene, people were hard at work.
Dotted amongst the trees in copse 2, the volunteers were removing the tree guards which had now served their purpose. Although I had worked with them many times, they seemed especially energetic on this occasion.
Perhaps it was due to the news they had received from Amanda Brookes, a Volunteer Development Officer for the Woodland Trust. The unexpected email had revealed that the High Sheriff of Hertfordshire, Henry Holland-Hibbert, had suggested that the volunteers be nominated for a ‘Heroes of Hertfordshire’ award, following his own visit to Heartwood Forest. Impressed not only by the volunteers’ efforts over the past 10 years, but also by the extra support they had provided during the pandemic, he and the Lord Lieutenant then decided that they did deserve to be rewarded.
As Amanda Brookes summarised, ‘Over the past 6 months we’ve seen an increase in the numbers of visitors to Heartwood, leading to an increase in litter and antisocial behaviour. The volunteers have been tidying up and carrying out practical conservation tasks, and for that we are very grateful. Congratulations to them for achieving the Heroes of Hertfordshire award!’
Good news indeed. I asked my fellow volunteers what they felt about receiving the award. ‘It’s absolutely fantastic!’ exclaimed Sandy Culpitt, as we paused for a tea break. Judith Parry agreed: ‘With all the negative things going on, it’s so nice to be part of something positive, to keep Heartwood as somewhere everybody can enjoy.’ Volunteer leader Tim Wright added, ‘We all know that fresh air and the outdoors is so important to well-being. At the same time, we enjoy taking care of nature, to see it looking good and flourishing.’
As we spoke, it became clear that what was even more important than the award was how much they enjoyed working together to protect this precious place. Jenny Wiles told me that the work had been ‘such a lifeline’ to her during this strange time. For all volunteers, the activities had been therapeutic, and given them a much-needed sense of normality and purpose. Catching up with David Brown as he worked with his team in Langley Wood, I found out that the work had been a ‘godsend’ to him, especially after being put on furlough.
Over in the arboretum, Brian Legg emphasised the volunteers’ efforts to make sure that Heartwood remains a sanctuary for both people and wildlife: ‘There are 19 of us spread out across the site today, and there were 5 working in the pouring rain yesterday!’ The volunteers do what they do because – as Albert Callewaert explained – they want to ‘give back to nature’. For that noble endeavour they have now been recognised.
By Chloé Valerie Harmsworth, Heartwood volunteer
Cover image by Judith Parry