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Recognising the People Who Keep Our Green Places Special

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The profile of volunteering in the national consciousness has never, you could argue, been higher following the pivotal role that the 'gamesmakers' played in the Olympics and Paralympics. Their passion, commitment and the seemingly effortless ability to capture of the spirit of the Olympian ideal added something special to the games.

Volunteering is in our blood and we're a nation of volunteers that love nothing better that supporting the causes that we believe in. Countless organisations, large and small, depend on volunteers to perform a vast array of roles; helping to keep special places special, day in, day out. They can bring experiences and skills from their everyday lives and careers that enrich organisations and add real value to the services that they offer and the work that they do.

Octavia Hill, a social reformer and environment campaigner, was in many ways the ultimate volunteer, dedicating her life to a wide range of causes and showing what could be do in Victorian Britain, a period of huge change for society with rapid industrialisation and urbanisation.

The Octavia Hill Awards, now in their second year, were set up by the National Trust, one of the many organisations that she helped to found, to recognise her contribution to the concept of volunteering but also her love of and passion for protecting and promoting green spaces. For Octavia Hill access to green space was fundamental to our well being and was a key part of her environmental thinking that linked everything from the quality of your housing through to the opportunities you had to have a good education.

This green and pleasant land is littered with a patchwork of places and spaces that wouldn't exist or couldn't function were it not for volunteers or the small organisations that are set up by energetic people to look after them. They make the places tick or have run successful campaigns to defend places from possible threats to their very existence.

In recent years there has been a boom in community led initiatives from creating new woodlands to running an orchard. These places, which are often quite small, can bring people together to share the wonder of being immersed in nature and seeing how the seasons change. It's often a few individuals that get these projects off the ground.

And then there are the people that have been tireless campaigners to save allotments from the threat of development, rescuing them from an uncertain future and encouraging them to become vibrant places where people grow their own food, helping to keep our towns and cities green.

It's down to people that the places that we really value are kept special for everyone to enjoy. Volunteers help provide that extra level of support that mean that projects get completed or work finished. They allow staff to delegate responsibilities and volunteering can equally provide opportunities to learn new skills and share in the sense of caring for special places, whether a wildlife packed nature reserve or a space in the centre of a city that's an important green lung for local people.

These awards are all about giving thoroughly deserved recognition to this army of unsung heroes of the environmental movement; people that just get on with it, with no fuss and no fanfare. It's about that can-do attitude where people or organisations can make things happen, overcoming bureaucracy and keeping the spirit of our national love of green places alive. We want to celebrate their achievements and encourage others to roll-up their sleeves and get involved in projects and campaigns where they live, and help to inspire the next generation to get excited and get active.

Nominations for the Octavia Hill Awards 2013, which are run in partnership with Countryfile magazine, need to be submitted by the 28 February 2013 and more information can be found at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/octaviaawards

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