Action for Croydon’s Environment is on the front-line of volunteer groups battling to protect green spaces in Croydon.
They are part of a national umbrella organisation called The Conservation Volunteers, founded in 1959, in response to large areas like playing fields, allotments and nature parks being sold off by UK councils.
The Croydon group are ‘reclaiming’ their local environment on a project-by-project basis.
They are currently working on a scheme in South Norwood Country Park. A 47 hectare park that was once used for sewage farms to serve the London population, it is now a designated nature reserve.
The group are fencing off reeds around the ponds to protect them from a type of goose that feeds on them in summer. They have also been cutting back willow branches to allow sunlight to get to the pond, protecting pond-life.
Projects like this, according to co-ordinator Dave Johnson, encourage residents to take responsibility for what is around them. Dave told ELL that South Norwood Country Park is one of a handful of highly bio-diverse habitats to be found in Croydon.
Twice a week Dave meets the volunteers in Croydon town centre and drives them by mini-bus to various green sites around the borough. He believes the project has social as well as environmental benefits.
East London Lines spoke to Carlos who has been volunteering with the group for twelve years and said that the work “keeps me out of trouble.”
Andy, a volunteer who recently began working with the group after loosing his job, said that it gives him something to do and offers the opportunity to get away from Croydon’s busy centre where he lives. He commented: “I feel more relaxed when I’m out, away from loads of people. I think it’s important to keep these sorts of places going.”
Although Dave has no problem recruiting volunteers, funding is an issue. He thinks it is part of broader failure by funding bodies to invest in green spaces in Croydon, like this one.
But in such a difficult economic climate, there is an argument that it is urban regeneration projects that should take precedence. Dave, however, believes there should be a balance.
If further support was there, this kind of work could potentially generate employment, as well as conserving the countryside. As things stand, voluntary work does not always provide a long-term solution for individuals, considering the high living costs in London. Volunteer, Andy, said that he was aware of this: “It would be good if there was some work being created for people too. I enjoy it and I’d do it anyway, but it’s true that it doesn’t pay the rent.”
But for now, Dave believes that what is most important is for the group to carry on achieving what they can, to “sustain what we’re doing and keep doing it well.”