Southern volunteers show their strength

Department of Conservation —  22/06/2018

In the depths of the South Island, Jill Hetherington tells a tale of two employees who have brought in 2,000 work days of conservation effort. Although these two individuals are able to report such crazy numbers, these achievements aren’t their own. Thomas Wright and Catherine Sutherland are, however, champions when it comes to identifying conservation outcomes that can be achieved by working with volunteers and making those outcomes a reality.

Volunteers pose with their handiwork working in Southland. 📷: Thomas Wright

Catherine Sutherland has for the past 10 years enabled people from across Aotearoa to connect with some truly beautiful places and some of the unique species that call the southern South Island home. The volunteer programme now in its thirtieth year, begins in Spring and offers 30-40 different projects that vary in length, activity and fitness level. Last year began with an opportunity for four wonderful volunteers to spend a week undertaking maintenance on Dumpling Hut, which is situated on the Milford Track, and finished with four volunteers helping out at Burwood Takahē Centre during April this year.

Projects vary depending on the work programme, but tend to include maintenance of huts, campsites and tracks, weeding, biodiversity monitoring, or a combination of many different things. During 2016/2017 our rangers enabled volunteers to connect with nature and contribute over 1,500 work days to core conservation outcomes. Catherine does a brilliant job, calmly co-ordinating the rangers and volunteers, managing the over-subscription for almost all projects, and ensuring everyone knows what is going on.

Rebuilding the old water race with volunteers as part of the southern South Island volunteer programme which was so popular some volunteers were rescheduling their own paid work opportunities to lend us a hand. 📷: Thomas Wright

Thomas Wright organises a busy and varied work schedule, for work lined up for those participating in the ‘Good to Grow’ programme, a partnership between ourselves and Corrections. Individuals with community sentences choose to participate in ‘good to grow’ as a way of meeting their service obligations. These volunteers come with a diversity of skills that enable amazing outcomes for conservation, such as the refurbishment of an old office building into the kākāpō rearing facility in Invercargill by volunteers with carpentry and painting experience.

Thomas and other staff have helped Corrections set up a basic kit for track work, weeding and construction work and trained people to supervise volunteer safety and ensure work completed meets the required standards, meaning that many groups of volunteers can be out at any one time across the southern South Island. Thomas still leads groups of volunteers and finds that for particular projects he has people rearranging their own paid work so that they can come and help such as the rebuild on several water races.

This week is National Volunteer Week, the theme of which is ‘Volunteers, the heart of our community.’ For us, working with others to achieve conservation outcomes means we can achieve significantly more, in this case the equivalent work of 7 full-time employees in one year! It also means that we are part of our local communities and nature is at the centre of everyone’s lives.