Volunteer Week: Work wanted for 16,000 people

Department of Conservation —  20/06/2019

Over his 18/19 summer break, Nick Gunby, Canterbury University student, worked with our Partnerships’ Healthy Nature Healthy People team to learn more about engaging with our mature volunteers.

In just 10 years a potential 16,000 people will been looking to volunteer for conservation, based on current volunteer rates and the aging population trend. Just think about that number of helpers and what could be achieved. Compared to 2016 based on Stats NZ data on population growth and the participation rate in conservation or animal welfare focused groups.

Already, we have older volunteers all over the country, proud of their work and making a significant difference to what the Department achieves. One volunteer told University of Canterbury research student Nicholas Gunby “we’re a small group of people, but we move mountains, we really do.”

Nick Gunby, student researcher.
📷: DOC

Over his 2018/19 summer break, Nick worked with Partnerships’ Healthy Nature Healthy People team to learn more about engaging with mature volunteers. The economics and finance under graduate took to the field (and cafes) of the Nelson region to find out what experiences older volunteers are having with us.

Their motivation was loud and clear, they strongly value the environment and care about the work they do, keen to support conservation. Most people also enjoyed the work and felt they’d been able to successfully make a difference.

Besides the conservation work there’s another bonus. Nick learned that working together as a group is a really positive part of it, the social connections are important.

Left – Sharing Kai and chatting. Right – Searching the bush Nelson.
📷: DOC

The people he interviewed have been volunteering with us for anywhere between 18 months and 30 years and ranged in age from 53 to 81. Not surprisingly, these people came with a range of skills and experiences, some are ex DOC employees, others with research backgrounds, and many with practical problem solving and outdoor capability.

Nick’s research tells us that we’re doing most of it right, although what the volunteers get to do and how much input they have is dependent on the local staff. He found that volunteers should be more proactively asked how they can best use their knowledge and skills to contribute to the work. Volunteers are keen to be more involved in the planning and project management and that there is value in introducing the vision for the project, so volunteers can understand their part in it. But overall, it’s usually positive experiences and good interactions that are taken home at the end of the day, with the satisfaction of making a difference to the New Zealand environment.

Forest and Bird volunteers.
📷: DOC

As the population of Aotearoa ages, and we all have more understanding of the positive value of both volunteering and nature to our population, it makes sense for us to attract and retain more older workers to our projects.  Then, not only are we getting the mahi done, we are being a part of building positive social, cultural and health outcomes while improving well-being in our older people.

Thanks Nick, some great insights. And if anyone would like to read his report just get in touch with the Healthy Nature Healthy People team.

Nick participated in the Science Summer Scholarship Programme which aims to facilitate closer engagement with Universities, while also providing an opportunity for students to collaborate with us across a range of disciplines.

3 responses to Volunteer Week: Work wanted for 16,000 people


    The parks and tracks are awesome but some of the maps are not clear or easy to follow. Some because the direction boards are dirty and just need a clean up and others need to be bigger and clearer. Some of the paper maps can be confusing. An excellent example of a WCC map is the Otari-Wilton’s Bush map. It’s is colourful, the print is large enough to read, the tracks are clearly coloured and the Key is accurate and clear. More of these wld be welcomed.

    Gillian Pollock 20/06/2019 at 11:13 am

    A very good reason not to raise the retirement age is because most restoration projects and trap lines are carried out and maintained by Gold card holders. These projects are often hard physical work which can easily be picked up by fit 65 year olds who willingly spend many hours each week doing this work. Many carry on well into their 80s and 90s.
    An older retirement age would mean the loss of hundreds of projects which all contribute to a healthier, happier country.