I’ve had a long and happy relationship with TCV stretching back over twenty years. During that time, I did my fair share of good, old fashioned conservation work. I also met, amongst hundreds of wonderful people, a President and my future wife!
It was at the very beginning of January 1997 that I boarded a plane in Exeter and headed to Belfast. Conservation Volunteers Northern Ireland (CVNI) had invited me over to volunteer in their tree nursery just outside Bangor. I was leaving my old life behind me (for many good reasons) and starting afresh.
CVNI provided me with a pretty simple, shared flat in Belfast and we boarded a variety of red minibuses over the next few years to travel all over Northern Ireland collecting seeds from native trees and growing them into thousands of little trees.
For almost two years I volunteered. Then I got a job with CVNI. I helped coordinate a tree-growing/educational project that increasingly took me into schools to talk about, and to plant, trees.
I must have helped grow a few hundred thousand trees (and more) in the time I spent in the tree nursery.
In 2005, I moved from the nursery to run a biodiversity project, which again involved travelling to lots of schools and talking about trees and the wider benefits they provide for people and wildlife. I was still planting a lot of trees too!
Perhaps my favourite project during my time in Northern Ireland was what I did with St. Malachy’s Primary School. This is a school in the heart of Belfast, in an area that suffered much during ‘the Troubles’. I was asked into the school to be their “Natural Pioneer”. This was a title assumed by those who were awarded a grant provided by BTCV to train a new generation of conservationists.
We (the school and me) decided to create a wildlife garden in the school grounds. Over many years, we involved a wide range of volunteers (from CVNI and the local community), school staff and children as well as a politician or two in the creation of the garden. This culminated in the garden being opened by Mary McAleese, president of Ireland in 2002. See, we even wore matching clothes (in the pic above)!
Oh, and did I mention I met my wife, Sinéad, during my time with CVNI? We’re now living in Donegal, managing our own acre of soggy Irish soil for the local wildlife and our kids!