For some people the battle against climate change is all in a day’s work
The good life
Holly Radford, 31, gave up her successful TV career in London to work as an assistant farm hand on an eco farm in Cornwall
‘I’d been living in London since I was 21 – I went to drama school and then worked as an actress for seven years, appearing in BBC period dramas and even in a soap once, but I got fed up with having to do crappy jobs inbetween work so when I was 28 I switched to the other side of the camera and became an assistant television producer.
‘It was when I hit the age of 30, I began to question what I was doing and why I was still living in London. I was working long hours, playing hard and hardly ever seeing any natural daylight while I was in the office. It was a very stressful environment and I wanted something a bit more fulfilling and outdoory. I was working on programmes featuring people who’d decided to ditch their city lives and move to the country. This was telling me something – I wanted to do it myself! It took me a while to pluck up the courage – but once I’d made up my mind, that was it.’
Down on the farm
‘I’d heard of a scheme called WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) where you can work for no pay but you get fed and given your accommodation, too. You also get to learn new skills. I was planning to ‘Wwoof’ around Cornwall but I ended up on Newhouse Farm, where I’m still living a year later. I knew the Strawbridge family and had become friends with James, the son of Dick and Bridget, as their farm was featured on the BBC show It’s Not Easy Being Green.
‘So over night I swapped the wail of sirens outside the office window for the sound of geese honking. My commute which used to be at least an hour was now just a walk downstairs. It was a very different lifestyle and the stress I’d been feeling before was instantly removed. One of my big worries when I moved to Cornwall was that I might be bored, but straightaway I found the work rewarding even though it was mainly cleaning out animals.
I had the satisfaction of standing hands on hips at the end of each day and really feeling I had achieved something – I just didn’t get that from my media job. ‘Going from living on my own to sharing a house with lots of other people was quite daunting, especially as I am an only child. But I got used to it very quickly.’
‘The best thing about my new life is the geese! I had to incubate them, watch them hatch from eggs and raise them to adults. But a big lesson I’ve had to learn is to stop being sentimental about the animals and not to treat them like pets. The farm philosophy is to give the animals as humane a lifestyle as possible but ultimately they are destined to be meat. In fact, since I worked on the farm I’ve become a meat eater again, having been a vegetarian since I was 13. I can see how well the animals are treated.’
How to be eco
‘I’m learning so many new skills here. The philosophy of the farm is to live a 21st century lifestyle but to produce little or no waste and to remove dependence on fossil fuels. The family moved into this derelict farmhouse back in 2002 and now the farm has water wheel power and energy generated by the solar panels that have been installed. All the toilets and the washing machine are run using spring water from the farm and solar thermal tubes heat up the water, which means I can have a guilt-free bath at last! Biodiesel is used to run all the cars and all waste is recycled. So what was once a derelict wreck is now a comfortable family home. They make money through TV presenting as well as running courses teaching people practical eco skills.’
‘The whole experience has exceeded my expectations. I was worried I would be lonely but I got that all wrong. There is a local pub we go to in the village and I’ve made lots of friends, I just didn’t realise it would be this sociable. I can’t see myself ever moving back to the city as I’ve got a taste for being a modern day land girl. For me, it’s been like a belated gap year, not having to think about income and spending time getting to know what makes me happy. I’m not thinking what will come next. Working with nature you find out that things have a habit of working themselves out.’
A GREEN FUTURE
James Garvie, 39, a director at the RSK Group, has been working in environment consultancy for 18 years and has seen a big change in attitudes.
What does your company do?
‘The RSK Group is the largest privately-owned environmental consultancy in the UK and we give advice to government, commerce and industry on how to implement environmental solutions. Basically we help them reduce environmental impact and follow legislation. Hopefully we help them save money in the process, too! ‘Projects are varied, from cleaning up contaminated land, which is being reused for housing, looking at the environmental impacts of new developments or existing operations and providing advice on climate change issues.’
What are your responsibilities?
‘I run teams that look at optimising the environmental performance of industry, including improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions. For example, we may look at how a power station is operated and how the power is used, and then make sure emissions are as low as possible.
‘We liaise with many people including companies, government regulators and members of the public, to identify all their requirements and try to marry these expectations into a cost effective solution for the client. I personally have to market our services, manage the clients, contracts and team members and make sure the projects are delivered profitably. It can be very rewarding when it all comes together.’
How long has the company been running?
‘The company has been around for 20 years and started life in the bedroom of one of the directors in Aberdeen. Now it is one of the largest environmental consultancy companies in the UK – employing 800 people.’
How did you get into this type of job?
‘I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors and studying nature but at the same time had an interest in working in an industrial setting. After studying relevant degrees I settled on pursuing an environmental advisory role. Trying to get a job in the early 90s recession was not easy, especially in a developing field, but after a couple of hundred letters I finally got an offer! Looking back I am so grateful for the opportunity. Even though I’d done so much studying, it’s when I started out in my career that I suddenly realised how little I knew and started learning for real.’
How has the industry changed in two decades?
‘Environmental issues really came to the fore during the 1960s and have been slowly building up since then. But in the last two decades there has been an explosion of awareness as people realise that the planet’s resources are not unlimited. ‘There are more constraints now on the way companies do business, from legislation to public pressure. Consumer choice has led to more people wanting greener products, too. Environmental pressures will only get bigger as the world’s population expands, emerging countries develop and more measures will be needed to curb pollution. The job has got busier particularly as new technologies and new issues have come about.
‘There are win win situations however. Companies themselves are realising whenever they emit something into the environment that they need to spend money controlling it. So if we help them emit less, or eliminate the emission entirely, they can save money and also become more efficient. The same is true for us as individuals. Making our homes and cars more energy efficient, for example, reduces our energy bills at a time when energy prices are generally increasing. Reducing how much waste we produce has a knock-on effect on how much council tax we will have to pay. The same is true for water use. In a way, we are rediscovering how previous generations used to live, but with more gadgets and comfort!’
Do you think people take the green issue seriously?
‘People are genuinely positive. You only have to look at the kids and what they learn at school. It’s great when a five year old tells you that you are using too much water to brush your teeth because of what they studied that day. Often people want to do something but don’t necessarily know how or where to find out more. Education is so important along with how key messages are communicated. ‘Attitudes are changing but it is slow. We are one of the leading countries in setting targets although whether we are actually doing enough is a different matter. The UK is progressive in what it is proposing in policies but much more needs to be done on the ground.
‘Green jobs will increase in the future as we try to move towards cleaner sources of energy, improve water quality and clean up historical legacies. It is a huge task on a par with the Industrial Revolution and the digital age. We are now in the middle of a green revolution – it has been a very exciting time over the last 20 years, and the next 20 should be even more so.’
Pictures: getty images