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What does it take to get a community engaged in protecting local environment?

broughty ferry aldi
Anna Kellner, left, and Jeannie Cooper, right.

What does it take to get a community to take action and protect their local environment?

We sat down with Jeannie Cooper and Anna Kellner to hear their thoughts.

The pair joined forces earlier this year to save a hedgerow from the chop.

The row of trees and bushes – home to a plethora of bird, rabbit and insect life – is at risk after budget supermarket Aldi won planning permission to build in Broughty Ferry, near Tom Johnston Road.

aldi dundee
Jeannie Cooper at the site of the hedgerow.

A petition set up by Anna has been a resounding success, with nearly 75,000 people signing it at time of writing.

Here, the nature-loving duo discuss protecting local environments and whether online petitions can have an impact.

How much difference can one person make?

Jeannie, whose career has included spells teaching conservation and biology in schools, started the campaign on her own.

She wrote to local representatives and Aldi themselves, but had little luck.

The environmentalist lives in Broughty Ferry and has enjoyed the hedgerow for about 20 years.

Jeannie admits she felt very much alone to begin with. She worried she would be bothering her neighbours if she asked them to get involved.

She said: “I did wonder about going and knocking on a few doors.”

But she had doubts about how people would react. And then the pandemic arrived, making that method unsafe.

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Aside from the Aldi campaign, Jeannie does try to engage with her community about the local environment.

Every year she makes and distributes the Courier and Hogvisiter — a tongue in cheek spin on the local newspaper, but focussing on hedgehog activity on her street.

The front page of this year’s Hogvertiser.

She thought about going to the same houses with a petition about the Aldi hedge.

“But I don’t want to put them off. I don’t want to be over the top,” Jeannie said.

“I don’t want to frighten them off.”

Does the online world offer a better chance of getting people involved?

Jeannie thinks setting up an online petition – such as Anna’s – is better because it’s not as intrusive.

“You’re there with the PC and you decide, not someone you know shoving something in your face… that might be a bit awkward,” Jeannie said.

This is where Anna’s technical skills came in.

Tens of thousands of people have signed the petition to support Anna and Jeannie’s cause, but not all of them are from Dundee.

Anna agrees this is something of a double-edged sword when it comes to local activism.

She said: “I definitely see that there are trade-offs.

“There’s the benefit that you can reach such a large number of people that you would never reach normally, but then you’re not as engaged like if I was actually talking to people.

“Jeannie spoke to me about it, so I am more passionate about it than someone from Cornwall, say.”

There are trade-offs.”

Anna Kellner on online petitions.

But Anna feels if “there is enough signatures” then online petitions can make a difference.

Jeannie added: “It was good to see so many people were interested. Yeah, maybe they only have to click a button [to sign the petition], but you still don’t have to do that.

“They went to the petition, read it and said they didn’t agree with that [the hedgerow being cut down].

“So I thought that was wonderful.”

How to get people involved?

Anna studied ecology and conservation at St Andrews University and is now doing a PhD in rewilding at Aberdeen University.

She is also passionate about “science communication and public engagement” — an early memory is writing to then-prime minister Tony Blair about fox hunting.

Anna Kellner.

But Anna admits it can be hard to get people engaged in local conservation because everyday life can be so tiring.

She said: “They have so many things going on that it’s hard to consider things that are outside your own life.”

Song thrush is just one of the species Jeannie has seen at the hedgerow.

What are the solutions to this fatigue-induced apathy?

As part of Anna’s studies, she has looked at “nature connectedness”.

She explains: “Everyone has their own feeling of being connected to nature. Obviously in cities, sometimes that can be quite low for the general public.

“Nature is not something that is influencing their daily lives.”

I’m seeing more and more school and nursery groups out.”

Jeannie Cooper discussing an increase in nature education.

A key way around this, Anna says, is education.

“Taking kids out with nature groups, just on walks, watching birds. That’s an amazing way to get kids engaged especially, but also people of all ages.”

Jeannie, who is a keen walker, notes she is seeing this first-hand and hopes it will manifest into future interest in the local environment.

She said: “I’m seeing more and more school and nursery groups out. The teachers with them are talking about birds and the environment.”

Aldi did not respond when asked for an update on the hedgerow.