WORKING FOR NATURE Richard Hinson
Improving access to the countryside, Yorkshire All over the world, devoted individuals are doing their bit by volunteering to get involved with wildlife. Jo Price meets a man working with a dedicated team to conserve local wildlife habitats.
Every week and in all weathers, Richard Hinson is out working for wildlife. For over a decade, he’s volunteered for Open Country, a Harrogatebased charity that improves access to the countryside for people with disabilities.
As a member of the charity’s Trailblazer and Conservation teams, he meets other volunteers twice a week to work on a variety of projects. The work-party days are led by one staff member, four non-disabled volunteers and up to eight disabled members, including
Richard. Much of their work is in Nidderdale Area of Outstanding
Natural Beauty, North Yorkshire, with occasional visits to the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Park.
“We help maintain a range of rich wildlife habitats, including woodlands, wetlands and grasslands, as well as footpaths and cycle paths,” says Richard. Recent projects have included helping to plant bog species, with the aim of increasing the amount of bog habitat in the local area, and a scheme to make churchyards more wildlife friendly – building and installing nestboxes and compost bins, and managing wildflower areas.
“The members gain a lot from the work they do, not only on a physical level, due to being outdoors and exercising, but mentally as well,” says Open Country’s Countryside Activities Officer Chris Hunter. “They get a great deal of satisfaction from the gratitude given to them for their hard work by partners we work with, which is valuable for their self-esteem.” Being outside and working with others has additional upsides, too. “Camaraderie between the work-party members reduces the social isolation often felt by disabled members of the community,” explains Chris.
In 2018 and 2019, Richard and other Open Country volunteers spent 1,904 days conserving nature, including planting over 3,000 trees and improving over 2km of path.
“The most extraordinary thing about what they do is that the quality of the work is so high and therefore well received,” says Chris. “They challenge the preconceptions about what a disability group can achieve.”
After completing an accountancy course at Bradford College, Richard plans to continue studying as well as volunteering: “We hope Richard continues to benefit from what nature has to offer, as well as giving something back to both wildlife and the community,” says Chris.
S Members gain a lot from the work they do – physically and mentally. T
FIND OUT MORE For more information on Open Country’s work, visit opencountry.org.uk
Richard and the team’s conservation work is challenging preconceptions about disability.