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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 February, 2004, 04:56 GMT
Green guardian seeks UK activists
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Building an otter holt   Environment Agency
Volunteers build an otter holt
The agency charged with caring for the environment in England and Wales has launched a volunteer recruitment drive.

The Environment Agency wants to recruit a force of green activists to get their hands dirty.

There will be cash prizes for winning entrants to its scheme to get people to work to improve their own communities.

The 100,000 programme, called Action Earth, is being run jointly with the British volunteering agency, Community Service Volunteers.

Making a difference

Last year 12,000 volunteers took part.

The 2004 scheme, launched on 4 February, runs for four months to end on World Environment Day, 5 June.

It asks people to identify ways they can improve their local environment, and then organise projects to meet that need.

The more we can get people and business thinking about the environment, the less we shall have to come in afterwards and shut the stable door after the horse has bolted
Barbara Young, Environment Agency
Last year volunteers undertook more than 700 projects, including building an otter holt, setting up boxes for birds, bats and hedgehogs, cleaning a beach, and clearing footpaths.

In total, nationwide, they improved 800 acres of land, an area the size of Hyde Park in London, and recycled drinks cans and waste paper weighing as much as two double-decker buses.

The volunteers planted more than 20,000 wild flowers and 14,000 trees, and cleared or improved more than 70,000 metres of bridleways and paths - the distance from London to Brighton.

Each group registered this year will receive a 50 grant towards set-up and running costs. There will also be 200 prizes for the winners of five award categories.

Scottish scheme

These are the most unusual location or type of project, the best aquatic and urban projects, and those involving the highest number of volunteers over and under the age of 16.

The Environment Agency is providing 100,000 for the scheme. In Scotland, where its writ does not run, backing will come from Scottish Natural Heritage, the government's wildlife advisers.

Building an otter holt   Environment Agency
The organisers hope local action will lead to global thinking

Barbara Young, the agency's chief executive, told BBC News Online: "These projects get people thinking about the environment - they really do mean 'think global, act local'.

"I don't think we're going beyond our remit in supporting Action Earth. The more we can get people and business thinking about the environment, the less we shall have to come in afterwards and shut the stable door after the horse has bolted.

"And if we get someone wanting to do a project tackling climate change, say, where some people insist there isn't a problem, I think that's a proper use of the agency's money and time."

She said if people waited until there was "absolutely indubitable proof" of climate change "it'll be too late for all of us".

"We can't just sit there frozen in the headlights for 20 years until it's completely certain."

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