A guide to: Taking on the icky jobs!

Download PDF

Some of the work necessary in natural spaces enables our appreciation of these environments’ beauty and tranquillity. Tending to spectacular flowers! Supporting charismatic wildlife! This is what you might call the glamorous side of proceedings - but certain other jobs may not be so alluring...turning a compost heap, picking up other people’s litter, or - say - the dog-egg and syringe adjacent activity of trimming back ground-level overgrowth outside a perimeter fence. These roles aren’t so sexy - yet they are, of course, entirely necessary.

When thinking about care, these seemingly more thankless tasks can be easily overlooked. However, reluctance to carry out ‘icky’ jobs denies a complete understanding of how to maintain such a space. Openness to these less overtly appealing jobs means accepting the reality of the situation. Giving time to messier tasks allows us to appreciate their appeal: the satisfaction, for example, of seeing organic waste gradually break down into fertile compost, or the way that litter-picking thoroughness - gathering the smallest shreds of plastic or reaching the most inaccessible foreign object deep inside a prickly shrub - can become its own reward.

Taking satisfaction in difficult or unappealing work is far from fashionable in the Global North, which decimates the natural world to support the lifestyle it has become accustomed to. This culture prioritises the speciousness (and vanity) of social media self-presentation, instant gratification at the expense of a gig-economy underclass, and offers the ‘metaverse’ - a virtual existence even further removed from physical reality - as a future worth embracing.

Ickiness is subjective, but, in this context, even getting dirt under the fingernails or twigs in the hair is simply not aspirational. Even though a barrage of studies show the benefits of being in natural spaces and of gardening work: reduced depression and anxiety, increased quality of life. Digging even releases microbes from soil which can stimulate serotonin production, promoting relaxation and happiness.

So, the challenge starts here: gird your loins, throw on some old clothes, and push through your squeamishness. Sooner than you imagine, you may find yourself beginning to relish the mud-flecked jobs which initially had you wincing with displeasure.

Written by Neil Clarke

©2024 Bethnal Green Nature Reserve Trust