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Joanna's story: 'Not afraid of hard work'

In the run-up to retiring in August 2019, I was concerned about losing structure in my day, social contact and purpose in my life. I very quickly realised that I did not miss work and had plenty of things to do with my days.

I heard of this project in December 2019. Although not a direct fan of animals and insects, I love being out in fresh air and the natural environment. Wildflowers and trees bring me joy when I am walking. So I thought I’d go and see what the project was about and haven’t missed a day since.

Immediately, after some brief introductions on the first day, the work was physically really hard. We were carrying lots of equipment and trees for planting then spend several hours planting these trees. It was a tough, tiring day but I really enjoyed it.

The bigger the team, the more satisfaction is felt as you can look back and see the difference we have made in a session.

March 2020, we had lockdown. During that time we had Zoom meetings where our manager and an apprentice would deliver sessions on various aspects of nature and give us some tasks to do in our own gardens. These sessions provided on-going learning and social contact.

After lockdown, we returned in smaller teams for shorter sessions than before. Like many things in life, it’s been a wee bit fragmented since, partly because several changes and gaps in management.

The first manager I met was very knowledgeable and extremely enthusiastic about what he was teaching us. Not only were we doing the physical work but we’re learning about what we were doing, why we were doing it, how to do it effectively and safely and what difference we were making. When he found an insect or a frog or other creature, his whole being would light up and he’d teach us some more stuff about it.

I’ve learned so much that I didn’t know before. I knew nothing about Himalayan Balsam or Dogwood or why we were scything grass. I appreciate the learning involved and what impact we are creating this year, next year and five years time.

Being out with and organised, managed group provides education and energy from those around you. I’m not such a good self-starter but, in a team with a purpose, I can work hard and make a difference. The team and all the managers we’ve had have always got on really well together. During a number of weeks when there weren’t any scheduled sessions, a few of us did some litter-picking, keeping up our regular meet-ups and doing a little bit to improve the environment.

Wednesday sessions have become very much part of my life and I enjoy telling other people about it and explaining some of the stuff.

I notice things more than I did before. Once you have learned about things like Himalayan Balsam or wildflowers or Dogwood and once you’ve been involved in working with it, you see it all around you. I notice things like when a path needs cleared, when there are briers on a path that could be a trip risk or vegetation that is overhanging and think maybe we could tidy that up to make it safer. As an regular walker with our local Ramblers club, if we walk near a project we have worked on, I often point stuff out and can show how Himalayan Balsam pulls so easily out of the ground and explain how this affects the ground and other plants that maybe previously grew there or point out a wild flower meadow and explain why we spend many hours scything grass on that patch and how that benefits the flowers and how they provide habitat for insects and other wildlife. 

I find the whole experience really satisfying … you return home tired, scratched, wet, sweaty with rips in your clothes but keep coming back every week anyway!



This is part of the project 'Stories of nature connections' (

Project Information
Project Type: 
Active Project


Areas of Interest

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.