Sunscreen? In September?!
Due to a calendar conflict, the EcoSend team's August CSR day was pushed into the start of September. A positive outcome, you might think, to avoid the August heat and enjoy a balmy early Autumn day…
How wrong we were.
As it turns out, Wednesday 6th September was one of the hottest days of the year, with temperatures hitting a blazing 31-32 Celsius.
But it would take much more than that to stop us!
And so undeterred, the EcoSend team strode out for our scheduled CSR day, volunteering with The TreeMusketeers at their Tree Nursery site in Hackney Marshes.
With sunscreen applied liberally, 5 of the team (4 humans plus 1 puppy), arrived at 10am sharp to meet our lead volunteer, Sam.
Brad Pitt or Thierry Henry?
Sam quickly got to work giving us the tour of the mini kingdom and its various territories.
Compost heaps, apple trees, wilderness areas, 'grafting' sites (more on that later), and of course - many trees being nursed to maturity.
Even a compostable toilet. A first time for many of us!
As per its name, this tree nursery is where young trees are cultivated and matured before being distributed across the local area.
Hackney Council are one of the main recipients, taking the trees when sufficiently mature and planting them across the Borough's parks and communal spaces.
In between showing us the TreeMusketeer site; spread out over 2 acres, Sam gave us insight into his past-life and how he came to volunteer with the TreeMusketeers.
A former fashion photographer, Sam patiently answered all our questions about which celebrities he'd worked with, and what they were really like.
Brad Pitt ("shorter than you'd think"), Thierry Henry (”a lovely chap”), and many others...
But since the birth of his daughter, Sam turned his attention away from the celebrity snaps and became deeply interested in the Climate Challenge.
This led him to a complete life-change, and starting his journey of studying Conservation and working with the Tree Nursery.
Composting or Heavy Lifting?
After the tour we were split into two teams, with James & JT led by Sam to the composting pile, and Russell and myself to the tree nursery, under Annie's tutelage.
We thought we'd escaped the tough task, as shovelling compost in the rapidly increasing heat didn't seem too appealing… but it turns out that hauling large plants and wooden pallets isn't all that much easier!
Annie gave us some fascinating insight around the type of pot they use in the Tree Nursery. Normal pots can cause tree roots to encircle, which overtime essentially causes the tree to strangle itself 😢
But with the nursery's carefully-designed pots, air holes are included across the surface. When the roots touch air, they retreat back, preventing the circling effect 🤯
I quickly realised just how ignorant I am when it comes to the science behind Conservation.
Just like 'grafting', which I'd assumed was a term Northeners use to describe working hard... In the Conservation world, this is actually a horticultural process whereby tissues of two cut plants are joined together.
The upper part (the scion) is joined to the lower part (the rootstock). This then causes the tissues to begin to grow together. Usually, the lower plant is chosen for its roots, and the upper for its leaves, flowers, fruits etc.
As the RHS puts it, “The purpose of grafting is to combine one plant's qualities of flowering or fruiting with the roots of another that offers vigour and resilience.”
The Tree Nursery it turns out, is part-conservation part-laboratory. One of their proudest outputs is a species of Elm tree resistant to Dutch Elm Disease, which has decimated tree populations across the UK.
Hugo wants a tea break!
We took a brief break for tea, biscuits, and petting Hugo - before Annie and Sam summoned us back to work. We were not here for tea breaks after all!
Luckily for Russell and I, we continued to avoid the compost and were instead entrusted with a set of twinkling scythes.
Jubilantly, we both started scything away at an area of overgrown vegetation to pave the way for planting. Meanwhile James and JT… continued to shovel compost.
Although in fairness, we were all spared the worst job of them all; cleaning out the compost toilet. That duty fell to poor Sam, who must've felt a million miles away from photographing celebrities in swanky showrooms.
For the next few hours we scythed, lifted, and wheelbarrowed around the site. Until, with the heat rapidly rising and all of us sweating profusely, we were granted respite for a lunch break under the shade of a magnificent Ash tree.
With the uncharacteristic September sun blazing, we finished up our lunch before committing to a last hour of lugging broken pallets and other detritus out of the site and to the council's waste depot.
At 3pm, with our shift officially finished, we gathered around (collapsed) together for a team photo, before saying our goodbyes to the Annie, Sam, Tamara, Derek, and the rest of the volunteers. All a lovely bunch and incredibly welcoming.
The team must have looked quite a sight as clambered onto the Central Line at Stratford station; exhausted and sweaty (and likely, rather smelly too). Even Hugo's energy had finally run out.
But none of that mattered, because we'd had a wonderful time with the Treemusketeers!
A Universe outside of the screen
Reflecting back, it's one thing to sit behind a computer and see EcoSend's tree planting number go up day by day.
But it's quite another to be out in the field and learning all about the processes, species, challenges, and science behind the actual tree planting. It really is a whole universe, which we are only just beginning to explore here at EcoSend, and it's why we are so grateful to organisations like TCV and the TreeMusketeers for opening their doors to us and sharing their knowledge.
There is so much more we have to learn, and we are committed to the task!
A day like today really fires us up for returning to the desk and driving our mission at EcoSend forwards. Much like learning from our guests on The EcoSend Podcast, it's the knowledge from real experts in the Sustainability field which helps guide us along our path, and keeps our motivation running high.
So a big thank you to The TreeMusketeers for hosting us, and watch this space for the next EcoSend CSR Day!