National Wetlands Update 2012
Issue No. 20, February 2012
The value of our volunteers
Grant Morgan, NSW Ramsar Managers' Network Coordinator
Hunter Wetlands Centre, NSW (Bruce Gray & the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communites)
While wetlands bring people together it's the strength, passion and commitment of volunteers that create the desirable outcomes for all stakeholders. Environmental volunteers play an essential role in protecting our wetlands and building strong communities. Volunteers create healthy, robust and dynamic communities.
The contribution volunteers make to wetlands is not just cheap labour. Volunteers participate in a wide variety of activities in and around wetlands, including events management, bush regeneration and community education activities. They play a significant role in providing eco-tourism services to the wider community, acting as tour guides, event staff, organisers and participants. Volunteering builds social capital. A key concept in understanding the value of volunteers, this social capital and the networks that develop through volunteering are the cornerstone of achieving the goal of the wise use of wetlands. This social capital creates healthier, happier and more integrated communities which create a better atmosphere in general.
There are many places people choose to volunteer and many reasons why. Motivations for environmental volunteers include a feeling of obligation to the environment and/or community and a desire to spend time with family and friends doing something positive, either in the local community or packaged as a holiday or gap year. Other key motivations are social inclusion, capacity building, personal values, esteem for their career and to learn about environmental issues. It is understood that volunteering and a strong community sector provides a solid foundation for social capital and social networks to be built upon.
Tourism is becoming increasingly popular, through corporate volunteering or such as experienced at the Hunter Wetlands Centre recently through community service agencies. Two volunteers from Europe recently spent time at the centre as part of their countries' national service programs. Instead of joining the military they chose to give back to the environment via volunteering in Australia. This new volunteer tourism has contributed to environmental improvements in recent years and helps build more diverse social networks across a broader community.
Birdlife at the Hunter Wetlands Centre, NSW (Sarah Stuart-Smith & the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities)
Volunteers are responsible for many of the improvements in the environment in recent years. In Queensland, community volunteers have been trained to collect geo-tagged, digital video of mangrove shorelines and estuary banks that helps experts assess change and degradation of tidal wetlands. Twenty-five years ago the Hunter Wetlands Centre at Shortland was a badly degraded wetland that had been drained for football fields, over-grazed and used as a landfill site. Today it is an internationally recognised benchmark for environmental restoration. Most of the work has been achieved due to the commitment of volunteers and it remains Australia's only community-owned wetlands centre.
Community projects at Panboola on the NSW south coast have been the foundation for improved water quality in the area and are continuing to monitor biodiversity and restore the marshland. Elsewhere volunteers are working with government agencies to monitor the status of seagrass. But it is not only water quality, biodiversity and aesthetics of our environment that improve through environmental volunteerism. Volunteering also builds social capital by encouraging community participation, community pride and knowledge sharing.
Volunteering as tourism will continue to grow, particularly for those organisations that deal with environmental volunteers. This is a unique form of volunteering and while they are tourists it is important to recognise that they are also volunteers. A key to successful tourism volunteering is to add value to the volunteer project by incorporating tourism experiences such as tours and recreation. Volunteers are extremely important to our society and to the success of eco-tourism in wetlands, and should be regarded as one of our most valuable resources.
(Adapted from Literature Review "Funding Environmental Volunteers in Hunter Region")
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