National Volunteer Week 18 - 24 May 2020
Victoria's environmental volunteers span all ages, cultures, and work across a range of groups and organisations. From community nurseries to marine life, frogs to fish ear bones, volunteers are doing great work in and for our environment.
This year to celebrate and promote the work being done by our environmental volunteers during National Volunteer Week, we have compiled a selection of fabulous stories about volunteering groups and projects. Click on the drop-downs below to read their inspiring stories:
Off the coast of Cape Conran in East Gippsland lies Beware Reef Marine Sanctuary, a 220-hectare wonderland of marine life and habitat.
Until recently, volunteers from the Friends of Beware Reef environmental group could often be found diving in the sanctuary, conducting underwater surveys of marine life.
"We usually aim to dive on a weekly basis, but this has been made quite challenging in 2020 due to the bushfires, as well as coronavirus,” said Don Love, President of Friends of Beware Reef.
Volunteer members of Friends of Beware Reef.
Bushfires over the summer also prevented the group from attending Summer by the Sea, where they have been participants for more decade, sharing their unique underwater experiences with locals and visitors.
Formed by a group of passionate divers over 15 years ago, this group of 10 active members has built a reputation as a reliable and prolific contributor to the environmental and scientific community.
The group works closely with Parks Victoria, the land manager of the marine sanctuary. They have also freely shared scientific knowledge with Coastcare Victoria, Museum Victoria, and the University of Tasmania through their Reef Life Survey program.
A Coastcare Victoria grant the group received last year has been used to buy a new waterproof camera. It has improved the quality of their photographs and videos which are used to identify species and shared with research institutions.
“We are lucky to have a member that can put videos together with ease. It is amazing what macro photography can highlight - especially with the marine invertebrates,” said Don.
Green Moray Eel - Gymnothorax prasinus at Beware Reef.
The group has been heavily involved in eradicating invasive species in Beware Reef and Gippsland Lakes. In the past year they successfully removed 13 North Pacific Sea Stars from Gippsland Lakes.
They were also part of a trial with Parks Victoria to reduce Long Spine Sea Urchins that wreaked havoc on the reef. “We found that it took at least two years for the larger kelp species to return to the damaged reef areas,” explained Don.
Not all their work is underwater however – community education is a key facet of their activities.
“Our ethos has been to educate both the locals, tourists and the wider public about what there is to see under the waters both off our coast and inland within the Gippsland Lakes,” Don said.
“We have taken much pleasure in educating the public from children through to the elderly within our community,” he added.
Whilst coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions have meant staying home, it has given this close-knit band of divers a chance to reflect on their achievements.
“The great reward for us is to see the database we have accumulated both photographically and scientifically, which shows trends in marine life we have observed as a result of our data collection over a long period of time,” said Don.
The move from outdoor activities to the online world has also given Don the opportunity to reach people virtually, through Parks Victoria and Coastcare Victoria’s inaugural Winter by the Sea online activities and events program.
He will be sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with a live online presentation about the marine life of the Gippsland Lakes this August.
You can find Friends of Beware Reef on Facebook
Recreational fishers have become citizen scientists as part of a study of Victoria’s rivers and creeks.
The Angler Citizen Science project was led by the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research (ARI). It used a range of methods to monitor fish in northern Victorian rivers, including the collection and analysis of fish ear bones - called otoliths.
“Otoliths play a role in fish balance and hearing. Amazingly, looking at an otolith under a microscope can tell us the story of a fish’s life – its age, growth, which rivers it has been in, and even if it is a stocked fish or a naturally bred fish,” explained Dr Zeb Tonkin, Senior Scientist at ARI.
“Working out its age is a bit like counting the growth rings on a tree stump. For a little bone in a fish, we can get an amazing amount of information,” he said.
This information about fish movement, breeding and survival can provide insights into the effectiveness of ‘water for the environment.’ This is water that is set aside in dams and then released through regulators to support rivers and wetlands and their plants and animals.
ARI scientists had been collecting otoliths from Golden Perch and Murray Cod as part of their routine monitoring for their Victorian Environmental Flows Monitoring and Assessment Program (VEFMAP).
They saw an opportunity to increase the sample size by working alongside anglers who were catching these species to keep and eat.
“We recognised that anglers were out there catching fish themselves in our northern Victorian rivers, and that we could get some great extra information from the fish they were keeping,” Zeb said.
“The more otoliths we have, the better our understanding will be of how fish respond to water for the environment,” he explained.
In early 2018, angling clubs in northern Victoria were contacted to gauge their interest in taking part. ARI also promoted the project through presentations at angling club meetings, regional events and forums, and other collaborators.
A video was developed outlining how to extract an otolith and a training day held near Elmore in late 2018.
Zeb Tonkin, ARI Scientist, shows angler scientists how to extract a Golden Perch earbone.
Angler Scientist Kits were sent to participants, which provided background information, instructions and tools to extract and record the otolith details. Those who did not want to remove the otoliths themselves could freeze the fish instead.
Over the course of the project up to June 2019, 84 Golden Perch and 25 Murray Cod otoliths were collected from 12 rivers, creeks and lakes in northern Victoria by angler volunteers.
Once the samples were analysed, participants were provided with fish profiles for each of their fish which outlined the fish’s age, where it was born, and if it was captured in a river, where it had moved from.
The results showed that Golden Perch can move far from their birthplace, with three born in the lower Darling/Murray River junction caught near Cobram East over 1,000 kilometres away. This has been found in other monitoring studies, showing the need to coordinate water for the environment at large spatial scales.
For the Campaspe River, evidence of a natural increase in Murray Cod numbers and strong growth of stocked Golden Perch indicate that water for the environment is working in this river.
“During this project we hoped to not only gain additional otolith samples, but also provide a meaningful and satisfying experience for the volunteers. It enabled scientists and anglers to connect and share information,” said Pam Clunie from ARI.
“We aimed to increase angler and broader community awareness of the benefits of water for the environment and VEFMAP,” she added.
Scientists and anglers working together has also provided an opportunity to build strong relationships, leading to an improved understanding of each other’s perspectives and interests.
For more information visit the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research.
This project was a collaboration between the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, angling clubs and individual anglers, North Central Catchment Management Authority, Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority, and Victorian Fisheries Authority.
Curious Victorians have been recording the sounds of frogs in their local area for citizen science project The Frogs Are Calling You.
Recordings are made on smartphones using the Australian Museum’s FrogID app. With the data obtained through FrogID, researchers can identify where frogs are thriving and where they aren’t.
By matching frog calls to weather and habitat, scientists are learning more about how different species are responding to a changing environment.
This data can also help scientists understand the effects of adding water to wetlands to help maintain and improve the health of native plants and animals.
Spotted Marsh Frog. Photo credit: Geoff Heard
Researchers monitor this process, known as ‘water for the environment’, so that the right amount of water is delivered in the right places at the right time.
Scientists from the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research (ARI) are doing this as part of their Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Program (WetMAP) which monitors frogs, fish, vegetation and birds.
WetMAP scientists Dr Geoff Brown and Elaine Bayes have been monitoring frogs since 2018.
“We started monitoring to understand if environmental watering makes a difference to frog diversity and abundance. The ecology of wetlands is very complex and understanding how and when to water them is challenging,” she said.
During the day they look at habitat structure and water quality, and at night, they listen and actively search for frogs, tadpoles and eggs. These surveys are happening at 29 wetlands across northern Victoria.
Scientists can’t cover all the locations they would like to, and that’s where The Frogs Are Calling You comes in.
“Citizen scientists have access to lots of places that the WetMAP scientists can't reach. Wetlands on private properties are huge sources of information we wouldn't otherwise have,” explained Dr Lynette Plenderleith, project leader of The Frogs Are Calling You and President of Frogs Victoria.
“Some wetlands are close to the citizen scientist's home and they can visit more often and at different times to the frequencies professional scientists could manage,” she said.
“This is even more pronounced with everyone staying at home recently, but many citizen scientists are still recording as the wetlands they monitor are close to their homes.”
One volunteer who recorded frog calls on his land is Brendan O’Brien from Benalla in the north-eastern region of Victoria. Brendan was inspired to join The Frogs Are Calling You to learn about frogs living in the dam on his property.
“The scientists send you an email after each recording you submit through the FrogID app, confirming the species identified,” said Brendan.
Brendan O’Brien, volunteer
Victoria’s wetlands are home to some 40 frog species. Brendan now knows which seven of these species live in his dam, their calls, life and breeding cycles, and habits. He plans to continue contributing to the project.
“I’ve learnt that making small recordings throughout the year is important to build up the research knowledge of our hoppy little friends,” he said.
“I’ve also learnt a lot about other fabulous Australian frogs, and our need to protect our threatened wetlands and waterways.”
Up to May this year, the project has received 415 records from citizen scientists. The most recorded frog is the Spotted Marsh Frog, whose call sounds like a high-pitched cluck.
The second most recorded frog is the Pobblebonk followed by the Common Eastern Froglet and Emerald Spotted Tree Frog.
If you want to join in and record frog calls on your property you can find out more at frogscalling.org.
The Frogs Are Calling You is a collaboration between The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Frogs Victoria, the University of Melbourne, the Australian Museum, Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority and North Central Catchment Management Authority.
Every Friday in the small town of Bass, just over 100 kilometres south-east of Melbourne, local volunteers meet at the community nursery at Bass Recreation Reserve.
Here, they grow native plants for revegetation within the Gippsland Plains and Strzelecki Ranges, mostly for farmlands.
Robbie Gray, Ecosystem Services Manager at Bass Coast Landcare Network decided to start a community nursery four years ago. He realised the network needed somewhere to store seedlings until planting sites were ready and wanted to gain more control over their supply of plants.
At the time, he had been running a series of plant identification, seed collection and plant propagation workshops with a regular group of volunteers. Robbie pitched the idea of forming a nursery group, and with an enthusiastic response from the volunteers, his idea came to life.
The nursery currently has around 10 regular volunteers, who joined for a variety of reasons
Linda Nicholls (volunteer), Stevie Wynen (staff), Anna Spiden (volunteer), Liz Bernal (volunteer). Photo credit: Andrew Northover, West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority.
“I felt that it was appropriate for me to give back to Landcare as they have been helping us plant out our property,” said Anna Spiden. “I find it very rewarding to see plants grow from seed and then to see them go out to become a part of greening our bare hills,” she added.
Fellow volunteer Liz Bernal also enjoys seeing how her work contributes to the local landscape.
“Seeing land where vegetation that we, as a nursery, have grown, is very humbling. Knowing I am part of improving the environment and adding value to the land is so important to me. Also knowing that the trees will hopefully be there for generations to come,” she said.
The nursery produces 42,000 plants a year and locals can have plants grown to order for a minimal price.
Over the years their offering has developed to meet the needs of the land, said volunteer Liz Nicholls.
“We are growing ground cover plants (commonly found in the Strzelecki Ranges) that are equally important when regenerating the land - not just the middle and top storey plants. A whole variety of insects will now be attracted to this new habitat that will evolve as they grow on farmers’ land,” she explained.
Roger MacRaild, Landcare Facilitator at Moorabool Landcare Network, found himself in a similar situation to Robbie when he was given a few thousand unallocated plants in late 2018.
Roger housed the plants on the site of an old Landcare shed in Rowsley, 50 kilometres west of Melbourne in the Moorabool shire. He then formed a committee to expand the nursery focussing on unusual native and indigenous species to revegetate local private and public land.
Roger MacRaild, Landcare Facilitator at Moorabool Landcare Network
The nursery started to take shape in 2019 when Roger secured a grant from Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority.
This funded staff from Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation to help expand the facilities. They also assisted with propagating plants and in turn developed their plant identification skills.
With the further help of a state-government funded grant through Moorabool Shire Council, Roger upgraded the shed and surrounds into a small-scale commercial nursery.
Roger says the dozen core volunteers at the nursery are essential to its success, which generated 25,000 plants over the past year.
“We have such a wealth of knowledge and ability amongst our regulars. They each contribute something slightly different,” he said.
Both Roger and Robbie appreciate what they have gained from working with environmental volunteers.
“I think the most significant thing I've learned is the value of having a disciplined and generous spirit. I've learnt so many little things that add up to an awful lot,” said Roger.
“They have opened my eyes to the amount of time and energy volunteers give to the community,” Robbie said. “Their continual involvement is impressive - that they have committed to the nursery and they care.”
The picturesque Bellarine Peninsula south-west of Melbourne is the home of Bellarine Catchment Network (BCN), a group made up of 30 representatives from catchment and coastal organisations.
Matt Crawley, BCN Program Manager, understands the importance of bringing together complementary organisations to integrate their work to protect and manage the local environment.
“The network has been around for 23 years and over that time non-government organisations, community volunteer groups, and different land managers such as councils, foreshore committees and committees of management have worked together through BCN,” he said.
Their common purpose is to “deliver more environmental outcomes and more community education,” he explained. “This integrated model benefits the environment and the communities on the Bellarine Peninsula.”
With the help of a Community Skills Development Grant, BCN organised an activity and training day for its members in October last year.
Delivered by the Marine and Freshwater Discovery Centre (MFDC), the main purpose of the day was to ‘train the trainer.’ Participants learnt how to engage and educate their own student or community groups.
Attendees visited Rocky Shore where they learnt about marine interpretation, animal and plant identification, geology, history and cultural heritage.
A mudflat meander followed. They looked at the ecosystems that make up the substrate of Swan Bay. The day concluded with a tour of the MFDC in Queenscliff.
“We saw an opportunity to share our skills with the different people who deliver education at schools, community groups, and festivals and events during the summer,” Matt said.
Collectively, staff and volunteers from BCN member groups speak to thousands of people each year.
“We wanted to give everyone more skills in their toolbox and therefore give the community more understanding and appreciation, which leads to better protection of the environment,” he added.
Sixteen community groups, organisations, land managers and councils were represented on the day and many of the 20 participants were from environmental volunteer groups.
“We participate in school education days and we appreciate getting our volunteers - most of whom have no professional background in the environment, marine or otherwise - to attend training like this,” said Margot Busch from Ocean Grove Coastcare.
“It boosts their confidence in delivering education sessions,” she added.
“The training made me more aware of some of the threats to the marine environment,” said Mel Rogers, Chair of Bellarine Bayside and member of Friends of Edwards Point. “It is so much better to actually see things in their natural habitat and have someone knowledgeable explain it.”
Matt said the volunteer groups who attended the training day “have used the knowledge they gained to better deliver messages around coastal stewardship - how you can appreciate it and have a positive effect on the environment rather than a negative impact.”
To find out more visit Bellarine Catchment Network.
The Friends of Dandenong Valley Parklands are an active group who work within Shepherds Bush, Jells Park, Bushy Park Wetlands and Koomba Park.
The group have around 30 regular members who contribute to a range of different regular monthly and adhoc activities such as the propagation of plants, Waterwatch, weed control, birdwatch walks, managing and maintaining an indigenous garden, history walks, planting, engaging with other volunteer and corporate groups and National Tree Day.
In their nursery they have managed to propagate and maintain 8000 plants since last year to contribute to the Living Links and Bushy Park Wetlands Revegetation projects and, National Tree Day.
The Living Links Project is a 3 year (now in its final year) Parks Victoria project funded by the CMA. It is a collaborate project which aims to provide a web of green and to help people connect with nature in an urban environment.
Throughout the project the Friends of Dandenong Valley Parklands have assisted immensely by propagating over 5000 plants each year in their nursery for the project, helping PV staff organise and deliver numerous planting days and assisting with follow up maintenance at some of the sites.
Throughout this month and next, the Friends of Dandenong Valley Parklands were ready for a number of planting days with volunteers, other Friends Groups (external to PV) and corporate groups to help plant the last 4000 plants, infilling areas of established sites from previous years and finalising the project. However, with COVID-19 present, the volunteers are disappointed they will be unable to put these plants in the ground. Parks Victoria staff will endeavour to keep up the FODVP’s good work and plant as many as possible!
Each year FODVP organise, coordinate and deliver National Tree Day with the help of PV staff for Dandenong Valley Parklands. The event has been extremely successful over the past few years.
Last year approximately 150 volunteers provided a helping hand which resulted in over 2500 plants being put in the ground in koomba Park. This year National Tree Day will be held by the FODVP and PV in Bushy Park Wetlands. We are hopeful that this event will be able to proceed in August as currently planned.
The group were successful in obtaining a Victorian Landcare Grant, provided through the Port Phillip & Westernport Catchment Management Authority of $18,440.
The project aims to restore the Dandenong Creek corridor which is an important habitat for many native species, particularly birds. Historically, it has been subject to agricultural grazing and now is under threat from increased urbanisation resulting in large weed infestations and river bank destabilisation. The group have engaged with contractors to tackle the weed issues in Bushy Park wetlands and have propagated 4,000 plants in their nursery with the anticipation to have these in the ground this winter. A collaborative approach with corporate groups, other volunteers, Parks Victoria staff and members of the public will hopefully see this goal achieved. However, in the current situation of COVID-19 there is a plan B if these events cannot go ahead to ensure these plants go into the ground.
A special mention to David Lumb, the president of the FoDVP who volunteers his time not only undertaking the regular activities, tending to the plants in the nursery on a regular basis but also spends a lot of time behind the scenes writing grant applications, coordinating the group’s activities and assisting Parks Victoria staff.
For more information, please see their Facebook page.
Update June 2020
We appreciate the enormous contribution environmental volunteers and community organisations make to the protection, enhancement and restoration of our landscapes, biodiversity, marine and coastal environments. We know your environmental volunteering work means a lot to you, as it does to us too, and we are cautiously welcoming the easing of restrictions whilst being urged to remain vigilant and ensure everyone’s safety.
As part of changes to restrictions up to 20 people can gather outdoors for recreational activity or exercise as long as appropriate hygiene and physical distancing provisions are observed. We ask that you continue to follow public health measures, Land Managers advice and stay informed here.
Environmental volunteers continue to be resilient and adaptable and it is with these strengths we’ll get through this challenging time together.
There are still opportunities to be involved in environmental volunteering while we are physically distancing, such as citizen science and contributing data, looking after your private land and collecting rubbish when exercising in your neighbourhood. Some ideas include:
- iNaturalist is doing an Environment Recovery Project - Australian Bushfires: https://inaturalist.ala.org.au/projects/environment-recovery-project-australian-bushfires-2019-2020
- For other citizen science opportunities: https://citizenscience.org.au/
- You can also do work in your own backyard and consider signing up for Gardens For Wildlife if it is in your area.
- If you are able to sew, you can create some Boomerang Bags
We look forward to a time when we resume the full breadth of environmental volunteering activities across Victoria. Stay safe and healthy.
In the meantime, if you need to contact us, please don’t hesitate to get in touch via email@example.com
Environmental Volunteering Opportunities - Interactive Map
We’re making it easy for people interested in environmental volunteering to get involved through local groups.
It’s as simple as:
- Zoom into the location you're interested in. Each dot represents a group.
- Select the dot to see the following info: Group name, core activities, contact details (Facebook or website). (Multiple groups may be represented by an individual dot. To access all groups use the arrow keys at the top of the pop up box).
- Connect with the group through their website or social media platforms and let them know you’re keen to participate.
Is your group missing in action?
To ensure the information about your group is up to date, please contact the environmental volunteering team.
We understand that environmental volunteering occurs across LGA and CMA boundaries and that groups undertake lots of different activities. To make this map simple we have allocated a Primary LGA/CMA and activity category. The legend showing activity types can be accessed on the top right of the map. Groups that go across the State, can be found in the "Getting Involved" links.
Land for Wildlife
Land for Wildlife is a voluntary wildlife conservation program. If you wish to create or protect wildlife habitats on your property, then the Land for Wildlife scheme can offer you advice and assistance no matter whether you manage a farm, a bush block, a council park or school ground.
Landcare represents thousands of people across Victoria, working together to increase biodiversity and promote the sustainable management of land.
Coastcare Victoria proudly supports hundreds of community volunteer groups working to protect and enhance Victoria's 2000 kilometres of coastline.
Waterwatch Victoria is a successful community engagement program connecting local communities with river health and sustainable water issues and management since 1993.
EstuaryWatch is a citizen science program for monitoring estuary health.
Victoria's parks provide open space, stunning landscapes, habitats to protect flora and fauna and areas to conserve cultural heritage.
Victoria Environment Friends Network
The Victorian Environment Friends Network exists to help represent the common interests of all Friends groups in Victoria.
SWIFFT – State Wide Integrated Flora and Fauna Teams
SWIFFT connects people with events, information and others interested in threatened species and biodiversity conservation.
Committees of Management of Crown Land Reserves
Approximately 1200 volunteer committees of management work on behalf of the Minister for Environment and Climate Change to manage 1500 Crown land reserves across Victoria.
Conservation Volunteers Australia
Conservation Volunteers makes it easy for people to care for nature by volunteering on one of our many conservation projects across the country. Volunteers come from a wide range of backgrounds and no prior skills or experience are required, and volunteer projects are available to suit your availability and particular interests.
Volunteering Victoria is the state peak body for volunteering, focusing on advocacy, sector development and the promotion of volunteering.
Australian Citizen Science Association
Australian Citizen Science Association provides information about opportunities to involve public participation and collaboration in scientific research with the aim to increase scientific knowledge. To be involved in citizen science you don’t need a science degree. Citizen scientists work with scientists or the scientific framework to achieve scientific goals.
Grants and opportunities available
Biodiversity Bushfire Recovery Grants - closes 20 July 2020
These grants will support bushfire recovery activities for communities affected by fire in the North East, East Gippsland and Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Areas.
A total of $900,000 is available. Successful applicants' projects can receive up to:
- $10,000 for private landholders (Stream 1)
- $30,000 for environmental volunteer groups (Stream 2)
- $50,000 for environmental volunteer networks (Stream 3)
Further information is available here.
Premier's Sustainability Awards 2020 - closes 20 July 2020
Celebrating their 18th year, the awards have evolved to become Victoria’s leading sustainability recognition platform, showcasing individuals, businesses, organisations and communities forging the way to a more sustainable future.
This is the second year for the new Environmental Volunteering Category and we encourage your entry.
Further information is available on the Premier's Sustainability Awards website.
Volunteering Victoria State Awards - closes 31 August 2020
The Volunteering Victoria State Awards celebrate and showcase the people, programs and organisations that build vibrant and strong volunteering communities.
Further information is available on the Volunteering Victoria website.
Wildlife Victoria Grants - no closing date
Wildlife Victoria has now released the 2020 round of grants, which are designed to assist Victorian wildlife care volunteers with the costs of their volunteer activities, to increase the capacity to care for wildlife, and to improve the capacity to respond to emergencies.
- The Wildlife Victoria Infrastructure Grant is for larger projects which match the listed criteria and can only be applied for by DELWP Authorised Shelters. Please note that Shelters will need to apply on behalf of their Foster Carers for the Infrastructure Grant and can be included as a separate part of the Shelter’s project.
The complete information about the grants and the application form can be found here:
Volunteering Naturally 2019
Volunteering Naturally 2019 is a collection and collation of data about active environmental volunteer groups in Victoria. This includes geographic location, and where possible, the number of volunteers and/or volunteer hours contributed captured through financial year reporting data.
- Volunteering Naturally 2019 (PDF) (PDF, 2.9 MB)
- Volunteering Naturally 2019 (accessible version) (DOCX, 35.4 KB)
Make sure you are counted in Volunteering Naturally 2020 - email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Recent volunteering news
Please have a look through our updates to find out what's going on in Environmental Volunteering.
- EV Update May 2020
- EV Update February 2020
- EV Update December 2019
- EV Update: September 2019
- EV Update: May 2019
If you'd like to subscribe, email us at email@example.com
Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Guide
The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Guide was launched 25 October 2019 to assist community groups delivering on-ground projects and activities in Victoria to better understand the state's Aboriginal cultural heritage management process.
The guide has been updated in January 2020 and steps out the process for meeting the requirements of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 which helps groups determine whether a Cultural Heritage Permit is required.
The guide also provides the key Aboriginal cultural heritage contacts, including for the 11 Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) in Victoria.
Celebrating our Environmental Volunteers - National Volunteer Week 20 - 26 May 2019
Victoria's environmental volunteers span all ages, cultures, and work across a range of groups and organisations.
During National Volunteer Week 20-26 May 2019, we celebrated 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:
Stories from 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 Aborignial 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 6 months, Colin and a team of 15 volunteers have been collecting water samples at the same time each fortnight at 8 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
Reaping the benefits of community-based volunteering
Carmen Bush is a well-known face around volunteer groups on Phillip Island, recognised this week for a decade of volunteering with Phillip Island Nature Parks.
Her efforts in environmental volunteering on Phillip Island are grounded in close to 40 years of contribution across committees and grassroots community groups throughout her lifetime. Carmen knows the value of a healthy environment and ensuring we protect our biodiversity and reiterates the social and wellbeing rewards that her efforts reap. “We all need to work together to protect what we have”.
The sitting President for the Rhyll Coast Action Group, Carmen like many others began her journey by learning about native plants through gardening. A staunch advocate for coastline protection, she continues to build on this knowledge to contribute to revegetation efforts and wage war on invasive weeds around the Ramsar site on the edge of Western Port – an internationally recognised wetland.
Collecting seed from the remnant bushland, Carmen also volunteers with others at the Barb Martin BushBank, supporting propagation of native and indigenous flora from the Island ready for planting.
Carmen’s determination to restore degraded shorelines has also led to a partnership with Phillip Island Nature Parks, supported by a CoastCare grant to revegetate coastal woodland at Pleasant Point. This project aims to increase biodiversity, mitigate erosion and landslide and of course encourage others to get involved in environmental volunteering.
Photo: Carmen (right) with Candace, the Bush Bank Coordinator (left) looking at seeds from a 150 year old gum tree.
Carmen reflects on a recent planting session where the crew witnessed a magnificent sea eagle resting on a tree above them. “There is a real social and wellbeing aspect to these efforts – keeping fit, being in the outdoors and socialising with other community members.”
Carmen acknowledges she feels very lucky to be a part of it all, including the challenges and variability of the work, which is why she is also motivated to recruit others to join and contribute. “You have to work as a team - you’re always a part of something bigger”.
Having not yet exhausted all the environmental volunteering options on the island, Carmen can now be found volunteering at the Koala Reserve, connecting with visitors and sharing her amazement with our sleepiest of Aussie icons.
The Victorian bushfires have had a significant impact on people, our communities and our environment.
We'd like to thank all the volunteers that have been working tirelessly over the past few months. From fire-fighters to wildlife carers and those who work in the background to enable people to keep showing up on the front lines; thank you very much.
Find out what DELWP and our partners are doing on the ground to assist in Biodiversity Response and Recovery in the maps below.
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 volunteering in and for the environment. 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: 04/06/20