Good for the senses

If you are working indoors all day, perhaps you are looking for a way to balance your work life with a bit of outdoor life as well. As a translator and proofreader I spend most of my days sitting at my desk in front of a computer screen. Especially in the winter, when the days are short, I don’t get out much. So I was yearning for some fresh air and exercise as well as keen to volunteer for the Essex Wildlife Trust when I joined their work party at my local nature reserve last December.

As soon as we enter the woods on a gloomy Saturday afternoon, my hibernating senses come back to life. There is the earthy smell of wood, fungi and rotting leaves. The cold winter air, combined with physical exercise as we clip and clear away shrubs and build a natural hedge, soon colours our cheeks red. The sight of a heron flying overhead makes us stop for a chat. We can hear a great spotted woodpecker heckling noisily from a nearby tree. After a few hours of work in the cold, a hot cup of tea and a piece of cake taste like heaven.

Nothing beats the company of like-minded people. I have learned so much about the local flora and fauna on these afternoons on the reserve. Did you know there is a fungus that grows on dead ash trees and can be used to make fire (King Alfred’s Cake)? Or that the plants of the Euphorbia genus have a milky sap that can leave you blind if you accidentally rub it into your eyes? Or that there are barn owls nesting in the big tree with the fire damage near the footbridge by the river?

It also is immensely satisfying when you see the result of a few hours labour right in front of you. Unlike the achievement of business targets, measured over weeks or months, working on the reserve gives you an instant gratification. For me this is a winning combination: apart from giving you a reason to go out in winter and a free workout, you get to hone your gardening skills, work with great tools, learn about the environment and are instantly rewarded for your efforts. Oh, and you can watch a couple of robins negotiating their territories while you are at it. It simply is a lovely way to spend an afternoon, good for the soul and for the senses. I, for one, already look forward to next winter.

Check out your local Wildlife Trust for opportunities to volunteer.