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Real Life: Green charity launches in loving memory

When Brampton’s Vhari Russell lost her 37-year-old brother out of the blue, she decided to channel her grief into a legacy project. The result is Creating Nature’s Corridors, a charity which, launching this month, is pledging to paint the country green

From woodland den building and dog walks to tending their own veg beds in the garden at home, the natural world played a formative part in their childhood. So when Vhari Russell’s brother died - out of the blue at 37, from Sudden Adult Death Syndrome - she turned to the countryside both for comfort and a sense of purpose.

“On October 10 2018, I lost my big little brother - I am older but at 6ft 7in, Rory was taller. He died windsurfing, something he loved, on the Pembrokeshire coast,” explains Vhari. “He was a wonderful brother to me and my sister, husband and dad to his wife and two children, and a much-loved son and friend to so many.

“After the initial shock, I felt the best thing was to focus my grief into something positive. Rory was a very talented carpenter who made beautiful things, from benches to buildings, from green oak; from this, combined with our love as a family of the outdoors, an idea started to grow.

“Reading Isabel Tree’s Rewilding was the final piece of the jigsaw: I knew then that I needed to plant trees and hedgerows.”

Vhari Russell, founder of Creating Nature's Corridors, with her brother and sister (42856110)
Vhari Russell, founder of Creating Nature's Corridors, with her brother and sister (42856110)

The result is Creating Nature’s Corridors, a charity pledging to re-green the British landscape, starting on Vhari’s home turf. “Cambridgeshire is the least wooded county in the country and living in the village of Brampton we have been hit hard by the A14 development,” she says.

“We’re keen to work with parish councils, the Highways Agency, developers and farmers to help plant hedgerows and woodlands across the county. The aim is to increase biodiversity, carbon capture, flood prevention, wildlife habitats and community spaces for us all to enjoy.

“Sir David Attenborough, a lifetime hero of mine, has said we all need to make changes before it’s too late. We can all make a difference - and planting trees and hedgerows will make a difference.”

Endless studies have shown, continues Vhari, that “woods are our allies in the fight against a changing climate”. “400-plus tonnes of carbon per hectare - that's how much a young wood with mixed native species can lock up in trees, roots and soil.

“Put simply: to help reach the Government's 2050 target to become carbon net-zero – that’s removing as much carbon as we’re producing – we need more trees. The reality is we need to increase the UK’s woodland cover from its pitiful 13% to at least 17%; that’s an additional 1.5 million hectares.”

From a conservation perspective, increasing tree numbers is also vital, she adds: “In England, native woods and trees support a fifth of the UK's Priority Species. Oak trees alone support 2,300 species – 326 of which are entirely dependent on oak for their survival.”

Vhari is a mum of three and founder of both agency The Food Marketing Experts and networking group Grub Club Events. So how has she found time to launch a charity? “They always say give a busy person a job to do and it will get done,” she laughs.

“The charity is being run by five of us and I have actually found it fits really well with both The Food Marketing Experts and Grub Club, as many of the businesses we work with and are connected to are very environmentally conscious and also want to make a positive impact.

“I think the charity is part of grief therapy, too, as it enables me to talk about my brother and feel like I am making a difference for his children and mine; for their generation.”

Key goals include the creation of a local community woodland - Creating Nature’s Corridors is already in talks with Brampton Parish Council and the A14 development team - and the planting of 10,000 trees annually.

“One of the things I would love to do the most is plant one big oak tree in memory of Rory and be able to watch it grow,” concludes Vhari. “It feels like a way in which to deal with this huge loss, and a hugely positive thing to do.”

You can support the charity via cash donation at creatingnaturescorridors.co.uk . The Creating Nature’s Corridors team are also keen to talk to local landowners interested in expanding or creating woodlands - visit the site for more information.

Pictures: Jen Rich, The Food Marketing Experts

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