Leading outdoor retailer Cotswold Outdoor has announced the winners of its national search for local conservation heroes in the community. Among them are a single mum who has launched a pioneering camping initiative for single-parent families, a National Trust woodland ranger, an avid beach cleaner, a Marine Conservation Society Sea Champion, a falconer and local litter picking legend, and a woman who has used her daily commute to pick up over 13,000 plastic bottles.  

Priding themselves on helping everyone to make the most of the outdoors, Cotswold Outdoor’s new multi-media advertising campaign, launched this month, champions local people from around the country for their continued dedication to the environment in their area.  

As part of the initiative, applicants entered a competition to become their local environmental champion and star on advertising billboards. Cotswold Outdoor then whittled down the applicants to find their six heroes, who each go above and beyond to do their bit for the environment.  

Meet the Cotswold Outdoor Heroes 

Rebecca Grierson 

A busy single mum and assistant chef, Rebecca Grierson, 36, from Wolverhampton, started becoming disheartened by the amount of litter during lockdown and the negative attention campers were attracting as a result. In 2020, alongside her business partner Adam Howells, she set up a Facebook group for nature-loving campers who want to protect wild spaces and encourage others to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. Hugely successful, this was the catalyst for her setting up a summer camping programme for single-parent families who otherwise wouldn’t get the opportunity to enjoy a memorable break together.  

Rebecca comments: “At the Big Venture Centre in Wolverhampton, we started putting on two, four-hour workshops each week where children and their carer could come along and learn outdoor skills such as tent building and fire lighting. It was fantastic watching them enjoy learning together and just get away from the stresses of daily life for a couple of hours.” 

Determined to get the camping trips up and running, Rebecca worked closely with her local Strengthening Family Service and community centre to identify single-parent families who would benefit from a break. She then sourced all the kit needed to make the trips a success.  

“It’s important to remember the parents, especially single mums and dads who don’t have a lot of time for themselves or to spend socially with their children. Over the summer, I organised four camping trips where we took up to 15 people at a time to Patshull Activity Centre in Albrighton for an overnight stay. We made memories I’ll never forget. To see the sheer joy on the children’s faces when I went to collect them was magical. Many of them hadn’t had a break for a long time, and some never at all.” 

Aislinn Mottahedin-Fardo 

Aislinn Mottahedin-Fardo, 31 from Exmoor, works as a dedicated National Trust woodland ranger at the Holnicote Estate on Exmoor’s National Park. During her seven years with the National Trust, she has planted over 5,000 trees and works tirelessly to care for the countryside and preserve the natural environment. 

Aislinn also mentors apprentices completing the Trust’s 18-month scheme, inspiring the young and those making career changes to foster their environmental passion and gain hands-on work experience.  

Aislinn comments: “Our apprenticeship schemes are open to all ages; we see young people and those who are looking for a career change, and the diversity in our applicants is so inspiring. I’m extremely proud to mentor these amazing people who genuinely love the outdoor environment as much as I do. We’re so keen to open up new routes and help people take up a future career in the conservation sector and beyond.” 

Ben Kniveton 

24-year-old Ben Kniveton works full-time at the National Centre for Birds of Prey in Helmsley while also running a community group, Wildlife Friendly Pickering. Through this group, he encourages hundreds of families to make small changes in their gardens to welcome and preserve wildlife. Ben also shares advice and monthly themes to inspire his members to do their bit for ecosystems. 

Ben comments: “I set up Wildlife Friendly Pickering to show people that the little changes they make in their garden can help preserve and encourage wildlife. I’ve been amazed and overwhelmed by how popular the group has become. It’s now a space where locals regularly share advice and photos of what they’re doing, and I feel extremely proud of all our members.” 

Ben is now working with Pickering Town Council on a pioneering new venture to re-wild 440,000 square metres of grass verge throughout Pickering. These roadside spaces are refuges for many rare meadow wildflowers and are crucial as the UK has lost 97% of its meadows since the 1930s.  

“I’m proud to be involved in something which will play a huge role in increasing wild spaces across Britain while creating an oasis for nature in Pickering”, says Ben.  

Hannah Lee 

A true ambassador for women in science, 26-year-old Hannah Lee from Edinburgh is committed to marine conservation. Alongside completing a PhD in Marine Biology focusing on blue carbon ecosystems, she manages to find time to volunteer for the Marine Conservation Society.  

Towards the end of 2020, Hannah organised her first official beach clean on Granton Brick Beach as part of the Great British Beach Clean, run by the Marine Conservation Society. 

Hannah and a group of volunteers have collected around 70kg of litter in the last year on their regular beach cleans and have worked with the local council to get it collected and taken away after each blitz.  

Hannah comments: “Every time we clean, we collect data on the litter and submit it to the Marine Conservation Society Beachwatch. It’s hugely valuable and helps keep track of the common items found on beaches. This data can then drive campaigns to change individual behaviour.”  

Rona Honnisett 

Rona Honnisett is a member of her local Deans Beach and Environment Volunteers group and goes out on a monthly beach clean with her fellow volunteers, in all weathers, covering three beaches in the Deans areas in East Sussex.  

Rona is also an ambassador for Keep Britain Tidy, where she helps to further spread the fight against litter. Dedicated to her cause and yearning to educate future generations, Rona has recently become a Marine Conservation Society Sea Champion. Part of this role will involve going into schools and talking to children about the dangers of plastic in the environment.  

Rona comments: “Children are our future, and we have a responsibility to educate them about how plastic is used and managed as waste and increase their understanding of plastic pollution. We must empower future generations and inform them about available solutions. I’m going to find it incredibly rewarding to be able to do my bit to educate children on today’s global concerns.” 

Theresa Bristow 

There isn’t a day that goes by when 54-year-old Theresa Bristow isn't out with her trusty litter picker and tote bag on a mission to clean up the streets, rivers and canals of Nottingham.  Since 2017, she has collected thousands of plastic bottles and hundreds of bags of litter, as well as helping to set up a local TerraCycle depot.  

She has used the hashtag #pickup1million - a movement that encourages people to pick up a plastic bottle wherever they go and photograph it and comments: “I’ve photographed every one and even kept a category tally, so I know what kind of bottles are littering our streets. To date, I’ve picked up, photographed and logged 13,300 bottles.” 

Theresa takes her litter picker everywhere, even onto the rivers, where her love for stand-up paddleboarding has come in handy. “It’s the norm now - my boarding pals accept that when we’re out, I’ll have my litter picker and will use it as a great opportunity for cleaning up the river.”  

Not one to rest on her laurels, Theresa is also involved with TerraCycle, a global leader in recycling hard-to-recycle materials. 

“Pre-Covid, people would drop off their rubbish at my house, and I’d sort through, spending hours flattening hundreds of crisp packets to fit as many as possible in the box. The same with the other hard to recycle plastics - they all get sent off together. TerraCycle receives a donation from the manufacturers as a gesture of goodwill which they pass to me. To date, I have donated £500 to Cancer Research, so the benefits are two-fold. 

“Once Covid hit, things changed, but I’m still a drop-off point and a big part of the TerraCycle community, and it’s something I plan to continue with as it’s a fantastic group.” 

One Mission: To Enable People to Keep Enjoying the Outdoors 

Cotswold Outdoor is on a mission is to enable people to keep enjoying the outdoors. But the retailer understands that action is needed now and that they have a role to play in changing buying habits. As well as promoting sustainability through their Cotswold Outdoor Heroes campaign, Cotswold Outdoor are trying to change buying habits by promoting the idea of buying the right kit the first time. Their in-store experts are passionate about the outdoors and have years of experience to help customers make the right choice. In addition, they offer services like Repair and Care to keep your kit performing for longer and Recycle My Gear which gives damaged kit a new lease of life and keeps it out of landfill.  

Jose Finch, Managing Director at Outdoor and Cycle Concepts Ltd., the parent company of Cotswold Outdoor, comments: “The outdoors really is what we make it, and it’s people like our Cotswold Outdoor Heroes who go above and beyond to help protect and care for ecosystems and are hugely passionate about the world we live in, who make a real difference. By showcasing exemplary local heroes, we aim to celebrate their achievements, show them how much their efforts are appreciated and allow them to reflect and revel in their outstanding contribution to the environment. Who better to explain the importance and beauty of protecting our planet than experts who are out there, getting hands-on every day?” 

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