Lions roar into conservation

Department of Conservation —  20/06/2016

National Volunteer Week 2016 is held from 19 to 25 June. This week we celebrate volunteers and the contribution they make to conservation

By Steve Brightwell, Partnerships Ranger

Hosting international volunteers can have a multitude of benefits for conservation, as a recent trial in the Eastern Bay of Plenty has revealed.

Lions Clubs International, which has a solid reputation as a service organisation whose members work hands-on with such things as park and playground infrastructure development, track maintenance, recycling and fundraising, approached DOC in early 2015 with a proposal to help out with conservation projects.

Unlike many other offers, this was not an offer of direct help but one to provide indirect support in the form of home-hosting volunteers.

French, Belgian and German volunteers helping the Nukuhou Saltmarsh Care Group on Uretara Island. Photo: Stuart Slade.

French, Belgian and German volunteers helping the Nukuhou Saltmarsh Care Group on Uretara Island

The proposal was subsequently developed into a pilot project to test the idea and discover any issues that needed to be resolved before a wider rollout.

With Lions taking the lead role, letters of invitation were sent to 23 people who had expressed an interest in volunteer work through DOC and the opportunity to take part in the pilot was later advertised on Backpacker Board.

Four participants arrived in two groups a week apart, stayed in Lions members’ homes and undertook a range of activities with four different community conservation projects.

The length of stay was intended as three nights/four days before moving to a new home but instead, many participants chose to stay with their initial hosts. One home hosted two participants for two weeks; while the other two participants stayed for a month. Ultimately the success of hosting was such that one host couple will be staying with their volunteers in Paris later this year, while another host couple will travel to Argentina for a wedding.

Significant bodies of work were completed by the community groups utilising this longer-term additional volunteer support. Projects included track building, weed removal, pest control and even designing and installing water catchment and storage systems to support new plantings through the anticipated dry summer.

Building water catchment and storage systems was one of the tasks taken on by volunteers at Onepu Community Recreation Park. Photo: Bill Clark.

Building water catchment and storage systems at Onepu Community Recreation Park

The recruits who came from those who had registered an interest in conservation volunteering proved highly suitable for the work undertaken by community conservation groups. It should be noted that these recruits were also more mature (late 20s) and were engaging in activity that was more-or-less career aligned.

Language difficulties, changeable itineraries and unclear expectations all contributed complexity to recruiting, accommodating and matching international volunteers to home-stay and community work opportunities. Future iterations of the scheme will shift a lot of co-ordination directly to the community groups who need volunteers, with the flexibility around dates being catered to by having a larger pool of available Lions home hosts.

The pilot project has shown that there is an appetite among Lions members for hosting people who are in turn able to provide a volunteer resource to community conservation projects. Community conservation groups stand to benefit from these volunteers to boost their labour force for achieving conservation outcomes..

Track building in the council-managed Karaponga Reserve was another task the Lions-hosted volunteers turned their hands to. DOC’s Earl Rewi provided expertise and a bit of extra manpower on this occasion. Photo: Bill Clark.

Track building in the Karaponga Reserve

With Lions now considering how to roll out the concept across their network of clubs, the door is poised to open to a rich resource of support that can make a ready supply of volunteers easily available to community groups who want to share the places they love with a bunch of people who would love to share the workload as part of their overseas experience.