TheElla Taheri visited the wetlands of Wells Harp, northwest London, when she was a schoolgirl. “At the time, it was a bit of a dump and dangerous,” she says. During the first shutdown in 2020, she rediscovered it. “Before, it was the place I lived near and I visited regularly. But during the lockdown, I really cared about this space. And if there is something important to you, you celebrate it,” says Taheri, 37, who works in advertising.
The Welsh Harp is a 160-hectare conservation area and Site of Special Scientific Interest surrounding Brent Lake. It is home to oxtails, grouse, grouse, greenbirds, and willows, but also plenty of litter. “There has been rubbish in the water for decades,” Taheri says. “We’re talking about carts and bird cages and skittles.” In August 2020, Taheri notified her neighbors via WhatsApp and asked them to join the garbage collection: 25 people came and collected 68 bags of garbage.
“We did two meters of parking from Kensington and Chelsea,” she says. A year later, we pulled out a gun and had to call the police. ”
Taheri continued to work with a group called the Welsh Harp Friends. She says, “At first, we focused on trash collection, but now it’s more community focused. We have refreshments and stop for chats because it’s about the community spirit: people have fun, learn about trees and birds, and make relationships.” In addition to the monthly trash collection, Welch Harp’s friends take walking tours on Trees with local ecologists and bird trails with ornithologists.
“I find it touching and inspiring how she used her anger to encourage her and make a real difference in her community and her community,” says Moya Sarner’s friend. “Your campaign has made a real difference, not only for the Welsh Harp community, but also for the broader community that is now more engaged, environmentally conscious and recognizing the value of their local reservoir.”
Taheri has expanded her work to a more general environmental activism. “No one paid attention to the wetlands,” she says. Much of the group’s job was to remind the authorities in charge of the Welsh harp of their obligations. “Bird numbers are decreasing every decade due to significant pollution. The sieves are not emptied into rivers. I have emailed many and tweeted a lot about the state of the trash can screens. But the Environment Agency told me that was not a priority,” Taheri says.
Taheri is currently trying to close a proposed bridge across the northern swamp. “The bridge will save the locals a few minutes’ walk, but it will destroy the habitat. The birds can no longer breed there,” she says.
Taheri admits that her conservation efforts have “taken my life”. “One of my girlfriends called last week and said Lily, what’s going on? We don’t see you anymore.” “I don’t have time for socializing,” she says. “I feel a bit guilty, as if I neglect my friends. But I don’t feel like I have a choice.”
She adds that this is because “we live in such urban environments”. And as green spaces come under increasing threat, “we need it to work the way it’s supposed to.”
Taheri is British-Iranian, and as a child she would press flowers into notebooks and write poetry alongside them. “Very Iranian,” she jokes. “I think I’m back full circle now. As a child, I wanted to be an environmental lawyer, and then a marine biologist. My favorite books were about flowers, plants, mushrooms, and trees. Now, as an adult, I’m stuck in this world. It’s amazing that I do the things that I I always wanted to do it as a kid.”
She insists she is not doing it out of the goodness of her heart or to sacrifice anything. “I like it but yesterday I shook. Work is so busy. I am late for my letter. I have events to organize. I just had a little meltdown.”
When asked about her relationship, Taheri is particularly concerned about the environment. Their local council does not collect food waste, so their food scraps end up in the trash. “It would be great if you could make compost out of it,” she says.
Team Guardian Angel equips her with a composter to fit her porch, complete with succulent, writhing worms. She grows lettuce, potatoes, strawberries, beans, tomatoes, and radishes on her balcony, and home compost helps her get a green thumb. “It’s going to be awesome,” she says. “I’ve already been associated with my worms.” Although sometimes she is afraid in bed at night that she might be cold.
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