Volunteering for Conservation: Happy Givers are Happy Livers

Ever felt overwhelmed by the enormity of world issues? Maybe you’ve thought, “What difference can a single person make in the scheme of things?” As a volunteer myself, I've certainly asked this question before; however, it’s time to stop feeling disheartened because volunteers are making significant inroads across Australia.

Volunteers - conservation's heartbeat?

People volunteer for a number of reasons, whether it is networking, a hobby or simply wanting to give back to the community. One thing they all have in common though is that they tend to be happier.

This year, National Volunteer Week 2016 continues to celebrate the theme ‘Give Happy, Live Happy’ that explores the research that shows volunteers live happier and healthier lives. Established in 1989, the aim of the week is to celebrate the tireless efforts of volunteers all around Australia. Every year, numbers of volunteers are growing, with over 6.4 million Australians volunteering annually, contributing anywhere up to 700 million hours of unpaid work. This equates to a total value of $290 billion within the Australian economy, which is a much larger contribution to GDP than tourism, mining or agriculture according to a report published by Dr O’Dwyer from the University of Adelaide. Feeling significant and valued now? Indeed, your tireless hours are making a huge difference! To further demonstrate this, here are five volunteer-based organisations making waves in the environmental world.

Five amazing volunteer-led conservation programs

1) A Second Chance for the Helmeted Honeyeater

Few may know that the helmeted honeyeater is Victoria’s bird emblem, yet the species has been threatened with extinction since the 1960’s. A voluntary group called Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater was formed in 1989 when the population reached critically low levels of only 50 individuals. This was due to habitat destruction and exclusion by the invasive bell miner.  The creation of Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve by the government combined with the work of hundreds of volunteers has brought the species back from the brink of extinction. Currently, the population now stands at 192 individuals and is home to more fledglings than ever before.

For more information on the Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater, head to their website. 

2) Trees, Trees and More Trees!

If you have ever been in a plane and looked down below, there is a good chance you would see acres of bare farmland. TreeProject is a volunteer-based, non-profit organisation established 25 years ago, and works with local communities by planting indigenous species to restore degraded land. They also have a significant role in sowing seeds for a sustainable future. Since their establishment, over 2.5 million trees have been planted across Victoria with the number growing every year! This has lead to large areas of once degraded and deforested land being restored, which in turn has vastly improved the health of both urban and rural ecosystems.

To find out more about TreeProject, head to their website.

3) ‘Inspiring change by connecting people with nature.’

This is the vision of Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA). Their effectiveness as an organisation has been impressive. Last year, more than 7,000 CVA volunteers helped plant 210,000 trees, performed 2,860 environmental surveys, and cleaned up 156 tonnes of rubbish. Not a bad effort, right? Some of their projects include land rehabilitation, improving coastal wetland resilience, as well as conserving and protecting Australia’s diverse fauna and flora.

For more information, head to Conservation Volunteers Australia's website

4) Bandicoot Fever!

Bandicoots are the charming native marsupials that were originally found in grasslands throughout South Eastern Victoria and Tasmania. Introduced predators such as cats and foxes, however, have lead to one species, the eastern barred bandicoot, becoming extinct on mainland Australia. A state-based captive breeding program has since been initiated by the government alongside several voluntary environmental organisations. The future has turned around for this once nearly extinct marsupial, the latest news being the release of 20 eastern barred bandicoots back into a predator-free sanctuary. Volunteers have been the key to establishing predator-proof fences, as well as restoring native vegetation at breeding centres, including La Trobe Wildlife Sanctuary in Bundoora, Mt Rothwell near Geelong, and Hamilton Parklands. It’s hoped the population will surpass 2,500 individuals by 2020.


5) A Watch on the Water

Like any other environment, marine habitats are no different and need to be equally cared for. ReefWatch is a community-led volunteer program that coordinates a number of marine conservation programs, including 'Feral or in Peril' that looks at which species are native and which ones are invasive. Another program run by ReefWatch and their dedicated volunteers is the Great Victorian Fish Count, which provides vital data concerning the health of fish populations in Victoria.

When it comes to volunteering, there is an organisation for all. You are never too old or too young to start! So get out there and get amongst our wonderful planet.

If you're looking for a local organisation to volunteer with, check out this list for an array of opportunities to get out into nature. 

Cover image by Billy Geary.