A day on the moors

Volunteer Lucy Atkinson braved the wet and wild weather for a day on the moors

On a gloriously wet, wild and windy day, some of our staff and volunteers joined the rangers up on the moors, to help them with their sphagnum moss planting targets for the end of December. Volunteer Lucy Atkinson tells us more about her experience and the health and wellbeing benefits that volunteering brings.

As a life coach, I encourage people to do the things they know that keep them healthy, balanced and well. I am also pretty good at taking my own advice! For that reason, I enjoy volunteering with the National Trust, and my recent day on the moors was a wonderful example of how it helps in so many ways. For many years I struggled with stress and anxiety, and there are certain things that help me to feel really balanced and emotionally healthy. There is research to back this up too, showing that volunteering has many benefits.

The NHS website also has some helpful information on how volunteering opportunities, such as those with the National Trust, can help you to improve your mental health and wellbeing; connecting with people, being active, learning new things, acts of giving and kindness to your community, and being mindful are all wonderful ways to feel more positive and get the most out of life.

Sphagnum moss - the little green hero plant
Sphagnum moss - the little green hero plant
Sphagnum moss - the little green hero plant

Being outside and active is something I love, and again there is clear evidence that this helps to keep us mentally well. Even with a pretty dreadful weather forecast, I knew that getting outside and being physically active would really keep my mood positive. There is a saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing and with this in mind I wrapped up warm to keep out the wind and rain. If you don’t have appropriate outdoor clothing, do get in touch and ask.

The task was to head right up to the remote moors and plant sphagnum moss in huge circles that had already been prepared. It was fascinating to learn about the way that technology has helped this work, so that each area was mapped in an app and we could easily locate it, then it was recorded that we had planted a certain amount in that area. There was a lot to learn about how moorland conservation has changed over recent years; the National Trust has led the way in no longer burning off the heather, as this simply encouraged the heather to grow back more strongly – apparently those heather seeds love being smoked, and it helped them to out-compete the other species!

A day out sphagnum planting that was refreshingly good for the soul
A day out sphagnum planting that was refreshingly good for the soul
A day out sphagnum planting that was refreshingly good for the soul

There was something enormously satisfying about planting the sphagnum moss in little plugs and seeing those little clumps of bright green against the dark moorland ground. Knowing that over the next few years, they would change the moorland, bringing more diversity to the landscape and helping to restore the peat bogs and maintain the water table. It made me very aware of being in the moment, looking at the contrast of colours and having a quiet moment of peace; I felt calmer and more positive right away.

Meeting people when volunteering is a great way to make new connections, particularly if you tend to be a bit shy. Having an activity to do can really help you to get over that uncertainty with new people, as it gives you something to focus on away from yourself and can make it easier to talk to people. I love connecting with people, and with the wind at times practically blowing us off our feet, there was plenty of joking and laughs. Huddling together in culverts to have a cup of tea away from the wind provided a couple of brief respites from the weather, giving us time for a bit more friendly chat and connection.

A mountain hare hides in the heather
Mountain hare sat in heather
A mountain hare hides in the heather

We were also very fortunate to catch a glimpse of an elusive mountain hare. We stayed watching the stunning white creature until it was too far away to be seen, and all felt the beauty of that magical moment connecting with nature. It was a lovely end to the day; we finished up as quickly as we could, and I made the trek back to the vehicles feeling rain-dampened and tired but calm, happy, and knowing I had made a positive difference to the world in one small way.

For more information about volunteering opportunities, please visit the National Trust website.