Community Volunteering: Paul’s Trip to Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

QMUL Sustainability run a sustainability engagement scheme called ‘Green Impact’. Green Impact is run in collaboration with the National Union of Students (NUS) and is an environmental accreditation scheme. Staff teams form across QMUL and compete to input a number of sustainable changes from a workbook containing a number of criteria. The more criteria they complete, the more points the get. Teams are awarded in line with their achievements. Paul Monk, Waste Manager and member of the Estates and Facilities ‘Green Bees’ team took part in a biodiversity volunteering day as part of the scheme and writes about his experience below:

On Friday 13th February, as part of Green Mary Week, I joined a group of staff and students who had turned up at the Queens’ Building to volunteer at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.

The weather was being kind to us. Rain was forecast but seemed to be holding off. After checking everyone off an attendee list, we set of for the park not really knowing what to expect.

On arrival we were directed to the Soanes Centre where we were met by Park Manager Ken. After a brief induction talk and choosing of gloves and hard hats, we went outside grabbed some wheelbarrows full of equipment and headed out into the park.

What a surprise the park is! Once an operational Victorian cemetery the entire 31 acres in now designated as parkland. It’s a Local Nature Reserve and Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation. Gravestones sit in amongst the trees and statues of angels watch over the local flora. It’s a surreal but beautiful sight and it’s easy to forget you’re standing in a city. Since 1999, 29 species of butterflies, almost half of all Britain’s species have been recorded here. That’s impressive for a zone 2, inner City site.

Following a clear and informative tool safety induction by Ken, we donned our gloves and got to our first task, moving previously cut down tree trunks. These were moved from under trees to cleared areas where they were stacked in neat piles, ready to become a new habitat for the parks many plants and insects.  

After refuelling with tea and coffee it was onto cutting. Newer growth on trees was marked for us by pink paint and our task was to cut it back to the point of growth. This helps preserve the trees and also prevents them from blocking out natural light reaching the ground, which encourages new plant growth on ground level.

We all moved the cuttings by wheelbarrow to a giant heap in another part of the park as the session drew to a close. Everyone returned to the Soanes centre tired but happy that they’d contributed to proactively encouraging biodiversity in the park. The rain had managed to stay away too but the afternoon group were not so lucky.

Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park relies heavily on volunteers to maintain a home for rare andendangered species of plants and animals for local people and the 7500 school children who use the park to learn and enjoy. Volunteering sessions take place on  every Tuesday from 10am to 4pm so do go along if you can. It’s a fantastic experience and will help you feel closer to nature, something that’s difficult to do in the heart of London.

More information can be found on Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park website.

– Paul Monk


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