In New Zealand, there are a lot of people who'll give up their spare time to do something for nature.
I have a neighbour across the road who is a retired school principal. Last night he turned up at my house (as he is wont to do from time to time) with a freshly killed, very flat stoat in his gloved hand. He wanted me to check on whether it was a stoat or a weasel for his monitoring records. (Tip: to distinguish between the two, you'll find one is stoatally different and the other is weaselly distinguished - geddit?)
Let's just make a point here. The weather in North Canterbury hasn't been that flash lately (read: it's been hosing down for weeks), and he is the guy who checks our traps around the Tuhaitara Coastal Park lagoon. He goes down there (which is a few kilometres down the road) on his pushbike to clean manky dead animals out of traps and to meticulously record what species of pest he is catching and in which traps. WHY!?
Because he really cares, and it turns out that he is not the only one. According to the community volunteer website Nature Space, the 15,000 or so registered members have planted over half a million trees, killed more than 2000 stoats and 7000 possums. It's a fantastic site, so if you're a nature volunteer, sign up!
Between 2010 and 2011, the Department of Conservation estimated, 12,000 individual volunteers contributed over 195,000 hours with an estimated value of $3.6 million. During that same time period, there were 508 community groups involved, which DOC reckons contributed 573,000 hours, at an estimated value of $10.6 million. That's a lot of people doing a lot of what is mostly very dirty work... which brings me back to WHY!?
There's been a bit of research on why people volunteer for conservation, but when you boil it down, it's a one word response - FUN!
It appears that clearing and setting stoat traps (have you ever had the revolting experience of cleaning a weeks-old dead hedgehog out of a trap? Blegh!), getting covered in muck while planting trees or weeding or any of the other out-there volunteer pursuits are a way that people can interact, do something outdoors and generally have a good old time while they're doing it. One of my favourite examples was the "conservation holidays" near Alexandra, where a group of not-so-young punters would spend their days restoring historic cottages and buildings, which sometimes included being up to their armpits in a bathtub of sundried brick mix which included straw, water, mud and horse poo!
I also knew of a group of gentlemen in Dunedin who had all had heart surgery, who went clearing tracks every week in the Silverpeaks (they took a portable defribillator along for safety).
Then there were the "ratbaggers" in Nelson Lakes, members of the Nelson over-60s tramping club who would take a van over to Lake Rotoiti every week to clear kilometres of rat traps... the list goes on and on.
There are lots of reasons people get involved in conservation, including a personal desire to make a difference, a chance to be in the outdoors, a chance to catch up with friends and meet new people, to gain new skills or to improve their own backyard. Whatever the reason, the outcomes can be enormous. In 2009, when the kakapo had a bumper breeding season that hatched 33 chicks, more than 100 volunteers each spent two weeks on the island (over a three-to-four-month period). The hours that these people put in feeding and monitoring the kakapo contributed around 400 days of work to the kakapo recovery programme - an amazing achievement. There were in fact so many vollies down on Codfish, beds were basically time-shared (since nestminders camp up at the nests during the night and generally sleep during the day).
The opportunities for nature volunteering are endless. It can include sitting out at night listening for kiwi, being a hut warden in a national park, teaching people about how to behave around wildlife, making penguin nest boxes - the sky's the limit. It's something kids, families, old and young people, farmers and townies can all get involved in - and it's something we love to do.
I personally love being involved in a restoration project in my own backyard - it feels nice to be able to contribute (and now our neighbours all want to join in on the pest-trapping action!). What about you guys? Do you volunteer for nature? What's your project about? I'd love to hear from you.
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