Victoria's environmental volunteers span all ages, cultures, and work across a range of groups, including Landcare, Friends, and Coastcare. Some even do so entirely remotely as online volunteers to well-known organisations including Greenpeace and Earthwatch.
This National Volunteer Week, we’re celebrating Victoria’s environmental volunteers; sharing the stories of a few to help encourage others to get involved. Click on the drop-downs below to read their inspiring stories:
Celebrating our Environmental Volunteers
500kgs of rubbish in under a year: ‘Plogging’ is all part of Karin’s running training
Trail runner Karin Traeger is a frequent guest of Melbourne’s parks as she clocks up the k’s training for her endurance events.
But during one 2018 training run in Kew’s Studley Park, the Melbourne University Master of Environment student was struck with a sudden thought.
‘When you’re an athlete training for an event, you often become so focused that you don’t really see too much of what’s around you,’ she said.
‘But I suddenly noticed that there really was a lot of rubbish everywhere that I was running, and I knew then that I wanted to do something about it.’
Karin began picking up rubbish during her runs, and shared this news with her friends and family – who quickly started to join her. Later, with the help of her friend Debbie Clemens, they established this initiative as a social enterprise to help raise environmental awareness around litter prevention.
Fast forward less than a year to 2019, and Karin and the ‘Plastic Runner’ team have staged 20 events across Victoria, collecting around 500 kg of rubbish.
These plastic jogging events have become known as ‘plogging’ and usually range from between 40-90 minutes, attracting up to 40 participants per event.
Karin says environmental volunteering gives her a sense of satisfaction, knowing she’s putting together the things she loves – running and the environment - for a better future.
‘Volunteering for a cause like the environment is to put passion into action, helping selflessly an area where you are passionate about,’ Karin said.
‘Additionally, volunteering can create a community, making it easier when things get challenging, creating new friendships, and encouraging others to be part of a bigger movement. Without our amazing volunteers we wouldn’t be able to keep generating this space and positive impact.’
Find out more about Karin and The Plastic Runner: https://theplasticrunner.com/
School student encourages Melbourne’s Chinese community to participate in environmental volunteering; meets Jane Goodall
When 16-year-old Chenxin Tu left China’s rural southeast for suburban Melbourne nine years ago, she was adamant not to lose her connection with nature.
The Year 11 student at The Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School grew up in a small village in China’s most forested and mountainous region. She began by marking each of her birthdays in Australia by planting trees since 2017.
‘My birthday is near National Tree Day, so I started inviting friends along to plant trees with me and it evolved from there,’ Chenxin said.
When Chenxin, from Watsonia, began high school in South Melbourne, she quickly learned about the Port Phillip EcoCentre in St Kilda and registered as a volunteer.
Chenxin has since volunteered across a range of projects, including a re-vegetation project to protect the penguins on St Kilda Pier, mollusc surveys across Port Phillip beaches with the Port Phillip EcoCentre and a recent sea star pest removal program with EarthCare St Kilda.
It was at the EcoCentre that she helped develop a program to encourage Melbourne’s vast Chinese community's involvement in environmental volunteering.
‘The language barrier can be huge for Chinese people who have recently come here, and they just wouldn’t know about the opportunities to get involved in environmental volunteering programs, even if they really wanted to,”’ Chenxin said.
With the EcoCentre, Chenxin developed a special Mandarin language workshop for the Chinese community. She promoted this on popular Chinese sites and social media, including WeChat and yeeyi.com.
The 2018 workshop was a huge success and led to Chenxin being named as one of the centre’s inaugural Multicultural Coastal Ambassador – a program which has now grown to feature a number of Multicultural Bay Ambassadors.
Chenxin said tailoring environmental volunteering projects to community and cultural needs was key.
‘Many Chinese people come from families that encourage study and hard work. They put the work in, they get results,’ she said.
‘So we focus on creating tangible projects with visible results – things like sea star removal. Some can be very short-term where it’s easy to see an almost immediate effect.’
In addition to her EcoCentre work. Chenxin is involved in citizen science projects with RMIT University, the Dolphin Research Institute and Scouts Victoria. She is head of her school’s environmental club ‘Keen Green Beans’ and part of the Environment Committee.
She’s currently expanding a veggie patch at her school, running many hands-on workshops for student engagement in conservation and has established the Mac.Robertson’s Roots and Shoots Program, created by world famous primatologist Dr Jane Goodall – who she was selected to meet when Dr Goodall toured Australia this month.
Rather unsurprisingly, Chenxin hopes to study environmental science upon finishing high school.
Find out more about Chenxin and her work at the Port Phillip Ecocentre: https://ecocentre.com
Melbourne couple create massive international online marketplace to breakdown barriers to volunteering
A few years ago, keen environmental volunteers Matthew Boyd and Tanya Dontas from Melbourne’s Bayside quickly found themselves a little time poor.
There were so many worthy projects and causes they wanted to get involved in – but the reality of life and commitments meant they were often unable to give as much as they had hoped.
They did a little research and quickly realised they were not alone.
‘The current volunteering rate in Australia is 19%,’ Matthew said. ‘Both Tanya and I felt it should be 90%, but that things would really need to change to get there. The reality was, many opportunities were just getting far too inflexible for people to fit into their lives around work, family and study – particularly those aged 25-34.’
Delving a little further by speaking with a range of NGOs, it became clear that what these groups needed was often more than on-the-ground hours.
‘It was web developers, accountants, book keepers, lawyers, social media managers – all things that can be done by a skilled professional in their own time, at home,’ Matthew said.
The pair then created Vollie, an online marketplace that matches individuals to skills-based remote volunteering opportunities. The projects are delivered entirely online.
‘It’s like the AirTasker of volunteering,’ Matthew said.
In just 2.5 years, Vollie has grown from matching a handful of Australian organisations with willing volunteers, to delivering more than 520 projects via almost 10,000 volunteering hours donated by thousands of volunteers from Australia and around the world.
Earthwatch, Greening Australia, Greenpeace and People and Parks are among the environmental organisations now using the platform to attract online volunteers.
Environmental volunteering opportunities are incredibly popular, Matthew said.
‘From young people, to those time poor professionals in their 20s and 30s, there are so many people who want to and have those specialised skills that so many environmental organisations need,’ he said.
Find out more: https://www.vollie.com.au/
Volunteers spearhead skyrocketing enviro tourism among Victorian 18-35s
In years gone by, when young Victorians stored their leave for a holiday or long weekend, they often headed interstate or abroad for a quick Bali tour.
But a new wave of next-generation environmental volunteers is seeing many Victorians now spend their weekends much closer to home, for causes far exceeding a sore head or
Tim Trottier, 31, from Geelong is one of a team of team of volunteers with Intrepid Landcare. He helps lead environmental retreats for Victorians aged 16-35, and also brings young people to volunteer alongside him on various Landcare projects around Victoria’s west.
As a leader of the Geelong Intrepid Landcare group, Tim has helped young volunteers get involved in a range of current and recent Landcare projects.
This June, Tim and his young team will be planting 10,000 trees as part of an ephemeral wetland project with Barrabool Hills Landcare, providing a habitat for brolgas on a local paddock too wet in winter for cropping.
Picture: Intrepid Landcare volunteers at Mt Macedon
In 2018, they took a five-day ‘canoe and clean up’ tour down the Glenelg River on the Victoria/South Australia border, collecting rubbish along the way.
Tim also assisted with the Geelong Intrepid Landcare Retreat, a weekend away for groups of around 20 young people wanting to help the environment while learning leadership skills.
During a three-night retreat, participants volunteer on a local Landcare project, before attending a series of workshops and sessions run by Intrepid facilitators and local environmental leaders.
‘These retreats have really been amazing in opening up environmental volunteering to a lot of young people who wanted to get involved, but didn’t know how,’ Tim said.
‘A few years ago, we saw lots of environmental students, but now we have all kinds of young people coming and participating, from bankers to travel agents. They saw us on social media or heard a local ad and then saw how easy it was to get involved.’
The interest has since snowballed, with an upcoming Yarra Valley Intrepid Landcare Retreat attracting more participants than ever.
‘It’s also providing some succession planning for Landcare,’ Tim said. ‘It’s much easier to get a group of people from a retreat to be comfortable to go and join a local Landcare event together – something they might not have done alone.’
Find out more: https://intrepidlandcare.org/
5,100 Victorian properties and counting – volunteers like David and Susan restore 165,000 ha of wildlife habitat
When David and Susan Rowbottom from St Helens in Victoria’s west head out on their farm, they come across many more animals than their 6000-head of sheep that make up the Rowensville Ultrafine Merino Stud and the Wingfield White Suffolk Stud.
For (more than) around 20 years, the Rowbottom’s farm has been a certified Land for Wildlife property – and is now one of 5,101 across the state.
DELWP’s Land for Wildlife program facilitates voluntary agreements with private landholders to manage and restore habitats for wildlife on their property, many of which are working farms.
Since the program began in 1981, volunteers have restored or retained 165,000 ha of wildlife habitat – put together, an area roughly the size of Victoria’s Alpine National Park.
For David and Susan, the impressive numbers hit a little closer to home. Their farm neighbours the St Helens Flora and Fauna Reserve, with about 5 acres of (the) bush (running) next door on their property.
‘The bush there is incredibly unique and very special. It’s almost all that remains of land like it around here, as (most of) it was mostly all cleared (when) by the time I was (just) a teenager,’ David said.
‘When we took on the farm, I always knew I wanted to preserve our section of bush just as it was.’
Through the local community, David heard about the Land for Wildlife program, and enquired if his farm would be eligible.
Fast-forward 20 years, and the Rowbottoms’ dedication to preserving and protecting the land is more than paying off.
Picture: Buff-banded Rail
‘We now have the endangered Southern Brown Bandicoot here, around 60 species of birds either living or visiting the area, sugar gliders, three species of kangaroo, lots of echidnas, (and) possums, and marsupial swamp & bush rats’ David said.
‘The local Landcare (leader) facilitator is here about once a fortnight, recording and monitoring what’s going on, proving the species existence with the remote cameras’.
‘For me, I just love getting out there and walking around. The things you see – it really makes it worthwhile.’
David and Susan said they would encourage anyone who was eligible to get involved in the program.
‘Regardless of how small it may seem, when we look at what’s happened here over 20 years, it really actually is significant,’ David said.
Find out more: Land for Wildlife
Protecting Melbourne’s Insta-famous pink lake: Volunteers mix conservation with crowd control
When Westgate Park’s lake turned hot pink this February, it quickly trended as Australia’s hottest Instagram destination.
But behind the tens of thousands of social media selfies, a small team of dedicated environmental volunteers quietly toiled to protect this incredible wetland on the city’s doorstep.
Around 20 volunteers with the Westgate Biodiversity Bili Nursery and Landcare group suddenly found themselves in scenes more reminiscent of a daily, never-ending music festival, than a quiet inner-suburban park.
Together they clocked around 1500 volunteering hours in March, alternating conservation with crowd control.
Westgate Biodiversity’s manager David Sparks said the task was far greater than their three paid staff could manage.
‘Some days it was 1500 people, 1500 the next, it kept coming and rising,’ David said.
‘We have a great group of volunteers who work with us year-round on conservation and re-vegetation across 40 hectares, and suddenly it was all hands on deck doing all manner of tasks.’
Volunteers began producing signs for visitors, explaining what they knew about why the lake was turning pink (high heat, low rainfall is the start of the process), and collecting rubbish in every spare moment.
They worked to keep people from standing in the lake and tried to protect native vegetation against the crowds. Unfortunately and despite their best efforts, much of the recently planted saltbush was trampled and destroyed.
And while the impact on vegetation was upsetting for David and his group, the pink lake’s popularity has provided huge opportunities for the park to educate visitors more broadly about nature and conservation in the future, he said.
‘We’ve got 150 species of birds here and amazing plants we’d love for people to experience while they’re here,’ David said.
‘And because it’s likely that the lake will turn pink again next year, we’re now sitting down with Parks Victoria to look at a way forward. This includes possibly building a boardwalk to protect the vegetation, improving signage about the lake and its colour process and creating other designated visitor facilities and areas.’
Find out more: Westgate Biodiversity Bili Nursery and Landcare group
Volunteers help Indigenous kids continue to connect to country and thrive
For the past seven years, Nalderun - an Aboriginal-led collective around Castlemaine - has been inspiring the next generation’s connection with country.
Nalderun - a Dja Dja Wurrung word meaning ‘altogether’ - operates holistic education, health and cultural services, including The Meeting Place.
Once a fortnight, participating Aboriginal children from right across the Mount Alexander Shire are bussed from their schools to The Meeting Place in Yapeen.
There, students aged from five up to 16 learn about the local Jaara Jaara knowledge and Aboriginal beliefs, and complete activities that are culturally enriching in line with the Australian Curriculum.
Run by two Aboriginal Elders and Aboriginal Coordinator, Kath Coff, Nalderun is supported by a dedicated team of four volunteers.
‘It’s all about continuing to connect our children to country and in doing so, inspiring them to succeed,’ Kath said.
Nalderun also run a daily Koorie Bus that collects local kids to take them to their schools, and hosts a range of other community programs. These include ‘Men’s and Women’s Business’ events that take Aboriginal and other Australian men and women into the bush to learn about Culture and Connection to Country, and also a Bush Tucker Course that teaches people how to plant, grow and cook Indigenous foods.
‘We wouldn’t be here doing what we do without our volunteers,’ Kath said.
‘They are absolutely vital to what we do and they are in for the long haul with us, sticking with us to make meaningful and lasting change.’
Continued connection with country is critical to kids’ growth and success, Kath said.
‘Already this year we’ve got two kids going into school-based apprenticeships, including one with the local Catchment Management Authority,’ she said.
Find out more: https://nalderun.net.au/
Volunteers help keep Barwon’s river beaches safe for swimming
As Bellarine beaches attracted more and more families last summer, the Barwon Heads community became a little uneasy.
A stormwater drain, adjacent to a popular kids swimming beach, where the Barwon River meets the ocean had been significantly enlarged.
‘There are two beautiful sandy river beaches on each side of the river there which are shallow and really popular with young families,’ Barwon Heads resident Colin Bridges said.
‘We were worried that the untreated storm water may be damaging the water quality where all these kids and toddlers were swimming.
‘We know kids are particularly vulnerable to picking up and fighting off bacteria, so we wanted to know if there was anything the community should be worried about.’
As a local community association member, Colin volunteered with a program established by the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority to test the water quality as part of the Barwon Estuary Monitoring Pilot Project.
For the past six months, Colin and a team of 15 volunteers have been collecting water samples at the same time each fortnight at eight different sites along the Barwon Estuary.
After each 1.5-hour collection, they place their samples in a cool box that is immediately couriered to a Geelong laboratory.
The last samples were taken in early May, and Colin and his fellow volunteers are now awaiting a scientific report detailing the findings.
Some samples have showed significantly raised bacteria levels at some of the collection sites, Colin said.
‘Once the final report comes out, we will know whether there is a need for a more permanent program, like the Port Phillip Beach Report, which provides warnings to Melburnians about where not to swim, including after a storm in Melbourne,’ he said.
Colin, 74, said being involved in the water monitoring pilot project, and volunteering with numerous community groups, had helped him make friends and build connections when he permanently moved to Barwon Heads four years ago.
‘It’s a very active community, there are so many different groups and things to do, and I love living here and doing what I can to help out,’ he said.
Find out more: Barwon Estuary Monitoring Project
Volunteers lead worldwide Repair Café movement across Victoria
John Hillel from Mt Waverley has long been a tinkerer, but for the past two years he’s been taking his fix-it skills far beyond his garage.
Since 2017, John has been running the St Kilda Repair Café at the Port Phillip EcoCentre.
From 2pm-5pm on every second Sunday of the month, John and a group of around 10 volunteers equipped with their tool boxes open the Centre’s doors to a line of locals clutching their broken toasters, hair dryers, clocks, torn clothes, jewellery, toys and an assortment of household electronics.
Over the afternoon, the volunteer group fly through up to 50 repair jobs, breathing life back into household items that otherwise would have been headed for landfill.
‘It’s a concept that started a few years ago in the Netherlands and has become very popular in Europe,’ John said.
‘It really resonated with me because it’s just so obvious that we need to make our planet more sustainable and we’ve got to start taking unnecessary waste much more seriously.’
Through contacts, John found out about Victoria’s first repair cafe in Yarraville, and began volunteering there. He quickly realised Melbourne’s populous southeast could also benefit from the service.
With the support of the Ecocentre and Melbourne’s Jewish Ecological Coalition, the St Kilda Repair Café was born.
There are now 30 volunteers now on the books – from electricians to academics and people who just like fixing things – who all chip in on a Sunday when they can.
Every month, they save more and more perfectly good household items from the scrapheap.
‘We have to stop this culture of if something’s broken, throw it away – that just doesn’t need to be the case,’ John said.
Victoria is now home to 21 repair cafes – the most in Australia. John recommends volunteering with a café to anyone.
‘It’s just a few short hours, nothing in the course of the month, but you get so much out of it. I really enjoy it,’ he said.
Find out more: St Kilda Repair Cafe
Environmental Volunteering Plan
Victoria has a strong history of environmental volunteering, with volunteers contributing enormously to improving our environment, our local communities and our economy.
Many Victorians give their time freely to a wide variety of environmental causes and organisations, including Landcare, Friends, and Coastcare groups. We recognise and value their contributions and collective efforts and want to help volunteers do more for nature when, where, and how its suits them.
More than 100,000 volunteers are currently contributing enormously to improving our environment, our local communities and our economy. By 2037, we want to help lift this number to five million Victorians acting to protect the natural environment and we’ve set out our roadmap for achieving this in our recently released Environmental Volunteering Plan.
The Plan is a coordinated and revitalised approach to environmental volunteering that supports and fosters a sustainable, modern, effective and valued environmental volunteering sector in Victoria.
For further information on environmental volunteering please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Page last updated: 20/05/19