We often like to reassure ourselves that our beautiful landscapes, wild habitats, parks and allotments are nurtured and protected by government departments or huge organisations.
However, the truth of the matter is that many places – particularly in towns and cities – only survive due to the passion and hard work of local communities, even individuals.
These were then put to a public vote, hosted by the National Trust. We had an incredible response – nearly 7,000 votes were cast and there was plenty of excitement on Twitter and Facebook. Clearly, there’s a strong desire to recognise the unsung heroes of our countryside. And now, we can proudly announce the 2012 winners…
A scrap of wasteland in north London has been transformed into a tranquil community garden. After years of hard work, the Friends of King Henry’s Walk Garden have created a beautiful green space in an area where many families don’t have any outside space.
Run by volunteers, the garden holds several workshops and regularly opens to the public. Local people can rent growing-spaces at low rates to start their own allotments, while the blooming calendar of events and educational programmes is always popular.
In such a busy place there’s still space for wildlife. Native hedges are planted for food and shelter, dragonflies patrol the pond and bird- and bat boxes make safe, urban homes. In such a big city, it can often be a rarity to catch a glimpse of the urban wildlife that is around.
This beautifully green corner in a bustling part of Islington seems to be a sanctuary for many people. Whether they are looking to start up gardening as a hobby, attend the garden classroom, or just want a bit of escapism from daily life, the garden can provide it. And it isn’t all about the gardening – friendships have been made by people who might otherwise have passed each other by on a Tube station platform. What the garden has in bucket-loads is community spirit – with space to picnic and play, grow and gently unwind.
Nominated by Nicola Freshwater
Category: Natural hero
Individuals working for community spaces that matter to people and wildlife
Winner: Roger Parkinson
Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Roger is the epitome of a local hero. As well as an inspirational tree conservation leader, he volunteers as a speaker and field teacher – and he’s a natural. As chairman of the Wakefield Tree Wardens, Roger is undoubtedly dedicated to his cause. Endlessly cheerful and deeply knowledgeable, Roger has helped more than 60 individuals and community groups with their woodland creation projects.
On a grander scale, he’s helped to restore an arboretum with more than 150 tree species. And for Haw Park Wood, Roger and his group grew 500 native oaks from local acorns.
Roger loves to pass on his knowledge, and as a public speaker his passion for woods and trees is infectious. His work through Growing For the Future – a scheme run by Groundwork charity for disadvantaged people – shows just how passionately Roger feels about helping people to help keep nature alive.
Nominated by Rowena Grew, The Woodland Trust
Category: Inspirational hero
Someone who has inspired and nurtured the next generation of enthusiasts
Winner: Matt Smith
Matt is a volunteer youth worker in the very same Bootle youth group that he grew up with. At just 21 years old, his selfless work in the community is having a real impact on tackling anti-social behaviour, while building awareness of a more sustainable planet.
Matt is a tireless fundraiser, pulling together camping trips that get young people from socially deprived areas exposed to the wonders of the outdoors. Combining nature hikes, self-sufficiency skills and a super-volunteer mentality inspires young people to think about issues affecting the world outside the city and appreciate what is around them. The impact is phenomenal, given that many have never left the city of Liverpool before.
At just 15, Matt joined a month-long BBC expedition down the Amazon. On the 21-mile canoe adventure he ripped out illegal fishing nets and built an enclosure for rare monkeys. This trip inspired him to show others that they can also help the environment, but much closer to home.
Nominated by Vee Smith
Category: Growing hero
Someone who has made a real difference to local people by setting up a community growing scheme, or saving allotments
Winner: Patrick Frew
Cloughmills, County Antrim
Patrick took a dream and turned it into a reality. Incredible Edible Cloughmills is a shining example of what one passionate and respected person can achieve.
Patrick wanted to increase the amount of food grown locally and made sure everyone was involved, from toddlers to the older generation. Bringing the community with him, he turned a one-acre site donated by an old pub into a growing space with everything from raised beds, polytunnels and rainwater harvesting, to a bug hotel and two hens.
Alongside regular school visits, there’s a hugely popular Muddy Boots Club for young children, aimed at reconnecting them with nature. Patrick’s Doorstep Allotments – recycled fruit boxes filled with homemade compost and easy salad plants – are delivered to 50 elderly residents. The impact that Patrick has had on these people is undeniable. His tireless campaigning and unfaltering enthusiasm has achieved his goal. But Patrick isn’t resting just yet.
He is already on to phase two – the Happiness Project. In his latest venture he has taken on the four-acre site of an old mill, using permaculture principles to establish 50 raised beds, a community orchard and even a compost toilet. His dedication to educating others on the benefits of growing food locally has really impacted the community as a whole, helping them to reconnect with not only each other, but with the world around them.
Nominated by Declan Donnelly, Ballymoney Borough Council
Catergory: People’s campaigner
This award celebrates a person in the public eye who has done something amazing to champion an issue or cause
Winner: Julia Bradbury
Countryfile presenter, a passionate walker and president of the Ramblers
Julia has been walking as long as she can remember, from around the age of five. Her father, Michael, would take her striding out across the Peak District, where he grew up.
Her father taught her how to tickle trout and told her the story of the Kinder Scout mass trespass, passing his passion for the great outdoors on to her. With this zeal, Julia has encouraged and inspired millions to immerse themselves in the outdoors.
For Julia, the response to her walking programmes, and programmes such as Countryfile and The Great British Countryside, is a constant source of pleasure and surprise. The Wainwright series, in particular, was only meant to sandwich a documentary about Alfred Wainwright – the BBC initially commissioned four Lake District walks – but the overwhelming response led to more programmes being made.
Julia has filmed more than 50 television walks to date and her father is very proud. Her programmes and passion have inspired people to get out there and explore the countryside, often for the first time, and have provoked an interest in our truly unique landscapes.
Look out for next year’s Octavia Hill Awards, which will be launched towards the end of 2012.
© Photos: Dave Willis, William Shaw, Steve Morgan, Rob Scott, Kenneth Doory