Some of you might think that Durham University Conservation Society (ConSoc) is a load of tree-hugging hippies who frolic in fields hugging mice and birds. To some extent that is true, although it’s pretty hard to actually hug mice and birds – they don’t like it. But seriously, ConSoc is so worthwhile. You do all sorts of conservation of the countryside in and around Durham (tree planting, tree cutting down, path building, surveying, invasive species bashing, river work etc.) with national conservation organisations (e.g. Wildlife Trust, AONB, Woodland Trust) and local community-run groups. You aren’t just helping the environment but also the people who live in Durham. You meet new people and you have a laugh. So that was the hard sell. Now let me share with you some of the experiences I have had with ConSoc over the last few years; you will be clawing to become an eco-warrior once you’ve finished reading…
So the countryside isn’t always sun glistening hill tops and Snow White-esque duets with bunny rabbits. Let me paint you a picture. Derwent Reservoir: County Durham. Wind is tilting the trees almost to right-angles and snow is swirling in every direction. Waves are crashing down on the shore, and not a soul is in sight… apart from a handful of figures with spades and trees. Yes. It is ConSoc, in March. Now, whilst all you fellow Durhamites were tucked up in your cosy (or not-so-cosy, if bills aren’t included) student houses, we were battling Mother Nature to plant a hedgerow. Have I inspired your inner conservationist? Hmm, maybe not. But the weather doesn’t really matter. Yes, it was cold, but we were wrapped up and equipped with tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and a lot of biscuits. We even got a bit of Snow White-esque singing in. You may laugh, but planting a load of trees is very satisfying. You would be surprised how quickly you can plant 100. And we have planted trees all over the county. One day, I’ll come back and see how big they’ve grown (at least I hope they will have grown and not just shrivelled up and died). And anyway, the sun came out and we remembered that we were out in a beautiful part of the countryside with not an essay in sight.
Sometimes ConSoc tasks can be completely idyllic. When you are on the top of a moor with the sun shining down onto the glittering remains of snow and birds (someone said they were golden plovers, for any bird fanatics reading) calling overhead, there is nothing better than sticking a very long pole into a peat bog to help calculate how much carbon is being stored in the ground. And when you know your day is going to end with fish and chips in Whitby, then spending the night in a farmhouse nestled deep in the Yorkshire countryside, there is nothing better than spending a long day making a footpath on a cliff right by the sea.
So, basically, in ConSoc, there are times when you want to destroy the planet to save you from having to save it in the first place; and times when you want to leave university and go and live in a wood, sleep on a bed of heather and wear nothing but leaves fashioned into some sort of leafy tunic and never involve yourself with civilisation again. Well, that might be an exaggeration. But, yes, there are good points and bad points. Every weekend, I invariably wake up and think, ‘why do I want to go and stand in a God forsaken field when I could just be doing nothing’. But every weekend, once I get out into the countryside and start working on whatever task we are doing, I invariably enjoy myself, no matter what the weather is choosing to throw at us, and think that there is nothing else I would rather be doing.
You learn so much, too. Now, I can plant trees like a pro (I bet you think you can plant a tree, but I bet you can’t do it in less than a minute), I can carry out surveys, I can make benches, board walks, bird boxes; I’m learning about all sorts of plant and animal species, I can trap and identify small mammals, and I know all about what conservation involves, which is great for my degree, my future potential careers and my all-important CV.
ConSoc is brilliant. It is good fun, and, come to think of it, it is almost the only exercise I do. I actually owe it to ConSoc that I am not a great wallowing hippopotamus (although maybe that would be a good thing- adding to the declining hippo population)! But yes, slight deviation. Where was I? Oh yes – I love ConSoc. Although this article hasn’t thrown fact after fact at you about how worthwhile conservation is and how it makes you a good person and how meaningful and significant it is, and about what a horrible state our planet is in and how we MUST put something back to save it, I hope it has shown you that actively caring for the environment IS worth it. When people bumble on about what a state everything is in, I can say that I do something about it.
Sign up on our website and come to whatever you can manage – we aren’t dictators, we like any help we can get! http://www.dur.ac.uk/conservation.society/