Volunteer Week: 1 million hours of volunteer effort over 30 years!

Department of Conservation —  18/06/2019

This blog is written by Jill Hetherington, Volunteering Manager in our Partnerships team. She celebrates the conservation efforts from our volunteers and team members on the ground, highlighting some of her key experiences after signing up to a week of track maintenance work.

If we took the Tardis back to 1988, we could witness a moment that changed the future. It could be said Fergus Sutherland, tourism and conservation advocate, had one of those “Eureka” moments and happened to get the right heads around the table, all with a no. 8 wire attitude. Fergus and his southern colleagues (John Peterson (DOC), Andrew King (DOC), Ken Bradley and Stuart Hardy) initiated the now hugely successful and highly sought-after residential volunteer projects across the Southern South Island. 

Celebrating 1200 hours of effort from John Peterson and his four lads, with Tony Preston and Catherine Sutherland.
📷: DOC

Now we can’t tell you the exact statistics on what these volunteers have achieved over the past 30 summers, but a ballpark figure on the number of projects run is around 1020, with about 10,000 volunteers participating, achieving in excess of ONE MILLION hours of work!

The 30th summer shaped up very nicely, beginning with a celebration of 1200 hours of work completed by four ‘young’ lads on numerous huts across the Southern South Island (Figure 1) and the 30 years of leadership by John Peterson. Now John is a rather quiet and polite fella, who certainly wouldn’t want the lime light, but he has lead hundreds hut maintenance projects and having seen him in action (attempted to help him), I reckon those ‘young’ lads and other repeat offenders come back because they enjoy working with him. John will also tell you those ‘young’ lads have taught him a thing or two about building and joinery, it’s a very collaborative approach to the work.

John Peterson supervising operations manager Tony Preston as he works with a volunteer to put in a seat at Garvie Ski Hut.
📷: DOC

As a somewhat ‘green’ labourer I signed up for a week of track maintenance work on the Milford with Ken Bradley a few years back. Aside from learning a lot about track work and appreciating the beauty of the valley, I spent every spare moment swimming …turns out I might have stuffed up Ken’s fishing plans on more than one occasion by disturbing the trout he had been keeping an eye on. Ken spent 28 years leading trips through Fiordland undertaking track and hut maintenance, and what he enjoyed most was taking people into the bush and including them in the good work the Department does. 

The basis of the volunteer programme in the early days was asset maintenance, which John and others continue today, but the biodiversity team got in on the action in the early 90s.

Left – Track maintenance on the Milford, volunteer Tui chopping the long grass through the prairie. Middle – The book of memories, every volunteer has contributed to this booklet over the years. Right – 101 uses for a leak it wasn’t turned into blue soup.
📷: DOC

Cheryl Pullar, ranger based in Owaka, has a rather worn exercise book containing photos and anecdotes from every single volunteer who has participated in the yellow-eyed penguin searches she has led along the Catlins coast since 1997 (the searches actually date back to the late 80s). The history of the project reflected through the booklet makes any new volunteer feel like they are part of history and how vital their involvement is given the present dire state of penguins along the east coast. Sadly, if penguin numbers keep declining Cheryl may not need so many volunteers in future. But don’t worry she has lots of other ideas and knows the exact recipe for getting the best work from volunteers whilst ensuring they have an enjoyable experience.

30 years – every volunteer has contributed to this booklet over the years.
📷: DOC

All three of these Southern legends mentioned that the success of a project is measured by the happiness of the volunteers at the end of their time. Ensuring that people depart knowing they have contributed to conservation and they have enjoyed their experience means we are sending advocates for the Department out into the local, national and global community. It also means that they tell their friends to volunteer and we all know that word of mouth is the most effective volunteer recruitment method.

Congratulations to the team, present and past, who provide New Zealanders and international visitors with an opportunity to experience and contribute to nature.

One response to Volunteer Week: 1 million hours of volunteer effort over 30 years!

    Jonathan Moake 20/06/2019 at 10:14 am

    Heart felt thanks to all the volunteers out there who make the outdoors such a pleasant place to visit. You are appreciated!