What is Environmental Volunteering?
Environmental or conservation volunteering combines a variety of activities that focus on preserving, maintaining, and restoring natural habitats. Environmental projects can aim to monitor and evaluate wildlife, eliminate invasive species though weed removal, and educate nearby communities.
Initiatives can be divided into three main groups, which are practical volunteering, fundraising, and administrative tasks. Practical opportunities require volunteers to manage habitats though coppicing, weeding out, and generally managing woodlands, meadows, etc. Fundraising involves helping organizations raise funds for practical projects while administrative tasks involve volunteers in applying their hard skills to providing legal services, marketing, etc.
Steps to Becoming an Environmental Master
Conservation volunteerism provides an array of activities and for this reason welcomes both amateurs and professionals with wildlife-oriented research skills. Most projects will require a five-to-six-hour commitment; however, expeditions and night animal management may require longer hours. And when it comes to particular practical skills, here are a few steps that will help you feel in your element.
- Learn basic identification skills. As practical volunteering may require conducting species-focused surveys, consider familiarizing yourself with the core principles of identifying wildlife based on secondary features such as prints, egg shells, feathers, and more. The Wildlife Trust, a UK charity organization, provides educational resources on identifying birds, snakes, flowers, etc. Additionally, the Woodland Trust has information on how to recognize birds, mammals, trees, fungi, amphibians, and more.
- Download Wildlife Verification Apps. Although you can opt for bringing species identification guides, keeping everything on your phone is much more convenient. iNaturalist is one of the most popular nature apps that allows you to take photos of species in order to identify them and determine their habitat. The kids-safe Seek by iNaturalist app will also become a fun backyard activity.
- Learn mapping skills. Often, fieldwork will require identifying species and recording their locations either by hand or with the use of a mapping device. Familiarize yourself with the basic techniques of habitat survey and mapping and learn how to use a compass. In case you are using Global Positioning System (GPS) or Geographical Information System, these are some resources to help you to navigate the equipment better
- Get better at ecological surveying. The United Nations Development Program has produced an 18-page long step-by-step guide explaining all the survey techniques based on the wildlife in Pakistan. The document provides well-explained methods and steps towards identifying species and collecting data on birds, amphibians, and mammals.
Now that we’ve covered some of the skills that will make volunteers useful, let’s cover some of the funded volunteering opportunities.
The SIF is a charitable organisation that manages and protects the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Aldabra Atoll and the Vallée de Mai. The Foundation puts great emphasis on scientific research to direct, support, and improve conservation management of the unique biodiversity and ecosystems of local environments.
Volunteers are invited to join the organization for a six-month unpaid commitment. The organization will provide accommodation; however, volunteers are responsible for their own airfare. In addition to fieldwork, SIF calls for contributions in accounting, logistics, sales, and security.
Coral Cay Conservation is a marine conservation organisation which works to protect the health of coral reefs in the developing world. Based in the UK and international project sites, Coral Cay team members apply their background in marine biology, expeditions, and research to work towards a more sustainable planet.
The organization is offering a 4-week scholarship program that is available to Filipino nationals who wish to contribute towards protecting local natural resources. There are three annual deadlines on 31 January, 31 May, and 30 September. Successful applicants undergo an intensive training program in SCUBA diving, species Identification, and Marine Survey protocols. Applicants must have a good understanding of English, be medically fit, and be able to swim 200 meters unassisted.
The Conservation Leadership Programme is a collaboration between three international conservation organisations, namely Birdlife International, Fauna&Flora International, and the Wildife Conservation Society.
Each year, CLP calls for applications to support projects in low- and middle-income countries and some high-income islands in the Caribbean and Pacific. Funding of up to $50,000 is awarded to teams of early-career conservationists to conduct scientific research, raise awareness, and undertake small-scale projects. The deadline is on 23 October 2020.
The Fund has been established to provide targeted grants to individual species conservation initiatives, to recognize leaders in the field, and to elevate the importance of species in the broader conservation debate. Its focus is global, and eligibility for grants will extend to all plant, animal, and fungi species conservation efforts without discrimination on the basis of region or selected species. However, it is very competitive indeed with only around 12% of applicants in 2018 receiving a grant.
The Fund is primarily interested in providing support to in situ conservation work in the field such as survey work and data gathering, direct action, recovery management, training, etc. focusing on the species in its natural habitat. Maximum funding for a project is $25,000. There are three grant rounds per year, namely in February, June, and October. Applications must be submitted in English with the budgets indicating expenses in US Dollars.
More experienced researchers and naturalists could consider joining the British Exploring Society as part of the volunteer staff. Candidates can apply for the position of chief leader, basecamp manager, paddle leader, and adventure leader for the duration of an expedition.
Alternatively, early career scientists from Africa and South East Asia are also encouraged to apply for a full scholarship to cover courses focused on fieldwork skills. You can then apply your new skills to helping eradicate invasive species on a remote island off the shore of Australia with accommodation and airfare provided for volunteers.
Environmental volunteering is extremely rewarding as it enables you to hone wildlife-related skills and see an immediate impact on nature. And with the help of local communities and scholarships, conservation volunteering becomes much more affordable for people from various backgrounds.
Photos: Shutterstock / Edited by: Martina Advaney
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