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Inspiration from Danielle - How volunteering with the Somerset AONBs' nature and wellbeing proje

Hi, I’m Danielle I have been volunteering with the AONB for about 8 or so months now and I have very honestly not looked back since. To give you a bit of background as to how I got to be writing this today I thought I would start from the very beginning - I promise I won’t take too long on this but I thought it was important to share with you the impact nature has had on my wellbeing and how it has given me a new lease of life and understanding of the world around us, as well as feeling a sense of giving something back to the community. I hope through my journey it will help and inspire others who are either going through their own battles or for anyone who has a feeling they want to get out there but don’t know how or why.

I was lucky growing up to be exposed to the natural world and wildlife one way or another, but since my battle with a mental health illness a lot of my identity had got lost and I didn’t have the confidence or space to develop what I liked and what made me tick. It was not until during treatment when I signed up to a programme lead by members of the Community Mental Health Team at Somerset Partnership that something began to click. It was the first group to go to Huntstile Farm, which is where I first met Kristen our Nature and Wellbeing Officer who helped to co-ordinate and set up the project. It was after this 10 week programme that I was put in touch with Quantock Volunteer Group lead by Kristen that goes up to the Quantocks once a month helping our ranger with a range of conservation-type tasks around Cothelstone. It was here my desire to learn more was ignited and I was keen to take part in more. So my love for all things nature and community engagement began!

Since taking part in the Monthly Group I have also helped to support a range of family events and community engagement activates over the summer to include family activity days to Otterhead Lakes and Castle Neroche both in the Blackdowns, as well as taking part in the Halcon trail in Taunton, organised by Zing Somerset.

Today I feel I have gone full circle and it has been a huge privilege to be supporting the Huntstile Farm Project which began again this morning and will run as a 10 week programme.

After a 20 minute drive by bus to the farm we went from an urban vista to beautiful scenery of farmland and hills, where we were introduced to the head gardener John. The views alone just lighten your load and you immediately feel free! Our first task which we took no time getting stuck in to was harvesting the tomatoes in the polytunnel ready to be made in to chutney (the green tomatoes are perfect for this) and sauces, relish and the like.

By this point it was amazing to see the group relax and flourish, feeling comfortable to chat a bit and share stories. It was great to find out a bit more about the people who I hope will benefit the most through this programme and to be able to participate in what I hope to be a positive experience for them to learn a bit about themselves, encouragement to come as they are, and gain a sense of freedom from trials and tribulations at home. After a short tea and biscuit break it was then on to tackling the herb garden which we did with much gusto – pruning herbs like lemon balm, lavender and oregano, and pulling up weeds and grasses to make way for next year’s crop.

It was a testament to how well when we realised it was time for us to go and was met with a “WHAT, already!?”

A couple of interesting things we learnt today Alkonet is a member of the borage family; its roots are used as a natural red dye. Calendula – it is a great aphid/black fly deterrent for your green beans or any other veg that gets hit by these pesky bugs in your garden. Also egg shells and cinder are equally good for deterring slugs!

It has been an absolute joy to work with such enthusiastic people and I look forward to seeing how the group evolves and seeing what happens next.


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