24 Jan 2020

New programme as migrants move in on conservation efforts

7:39 am on 24 January 2020

Volunteering for conservation causes is attracting increasing numbers of people across the country. In Auckland, it's a popular way for new migrants to meet people, connect with their community and stay engaged while they settle into a new life.

CVNZ volunteers planting during a beach cleanup.

A Conservation Volunteers New Zealand team during a beach clean-up. Photo: Supplied / CVNZ

Anastasia Timoshkina is one of those people. She came to Aotearoa on a student visa in 2018 and is now on a work visa and has been volunteering through Conservation Volunteers New Zealand.

"When I arrived to New Zealand I realised if I wanted to integrate into society I needed to meet people, local people especially," Timoshkina said.

"I realised that New Zealand cares a lot about the environment and in Russia it's a bit different, to be honest. I wanted to do something very special for New Zealand.

"First of all (I get to meet) people, I have the chance to practice English, to become more confident, to feel that I do some good stuff for the country, that society can benefit from what I'm doing. So I benefit from it as well."

She studied at - and now works at - the Otago Polytechnic campus in Auckland where she's a student experience coordinator and encourages others to get into volunteering.

Volunteering is so popular for new arrivals to the country that CVNZ has set up a migrant conservation programme.

"This pilot programme will look at ways to connect new migrants to established Aucklanders through conservation projects by reaching out to migrant agencies, English language education providers and other groups working to assist migrant integration into New Zealand society."

Along the way, they'll learn about the importance of conservation in an urban context, develop basic identification skills and management techniques and they'll be lending a hand to local conservation groups.

CVNZ corporate partnerships manager Siobhan O'Grady said it had been getting easier and easier to recruit volunteers.

"Last year was probably the first time that we were almost turning away volunteers at some points because of safety... we do ask people to book and last year, we were inundated, basically, with volunteers. So much so that we've actually just taken on an extra staff member to help me the recruitment of it."

CVNZ volunteers carrying out planting efforts.

CVNZ volunteers during a planting effort. Photo: Supplied / CVNZ

People of all ages were getting stuck in, but one of the major groups was of course migrants.

"We have so many volunteers that are new to New Zealand or new to Auckland, who are just looking for a way to kind of get to know their community a little bit better and give back, especially because once they first got here, they don't know people, but they're often not working yet as well. And they had they want to fill their time in a in a productive way."

In general, a lot more people were willing to get involved in conservation volunteering and there was an increase in corporate groups getting involved, as well as those migrant groups and religious groups.

But the motivation wasn't always doing good by the environment.

"It tends to be split down the middle, to either meet people ... and then others who just want to want to get involved in their local community."

However, O'Grady said: "Obviously, they've chosen to meet people by volunteering for the environment, rather than joining some other kind of club or activity. So they must care about the environment as well.

"It does get people into nature, it gets them to meet each other and keeps them fit and healthy, but they also start to learn and care a little bit more about the environment."

One volunteer told CVNZ: "When I registered for volunteering for the first time, I just wanted to try something new and learn a little about conservation. But as it turned out I found a new passion in life: I reconnect with the Nature, see wonderful endemic plants and creatures, meet fascinating people, explore Auckland, improve my English, work out and make my contribution to the environmental protection and conservation. Isn't it great?"

In 2015, CVNZ got about 7700 days of volunteer work. In 2019, it was up to just shy of 10,000 days.

Some of CVNZ's achievements for 2019. Almost 6500 volunteer days were committed by locals and almost 3500 days were carried out by international volunteers.

Some of CVNZ's achievements for 2019. Almost 6500 volunteer days were committed by locals and almost 3500 days were carried out by international volunteers. Photo: Supplied / CVNZ

CVNZ was at the point where it needed funding and projects to expand more than volunteers, she said.

"I think if we had more projects, we could easily continue to fill them because with the amount of projects that we have at the moment we're still constantly filling them without me having to try very hard with our promotion."

Funding for CVNZ came from "all over the place", O'Grady said. Private companies, councils, crowdfunding and grants all contribute to paying for it's work.

Over at the Department of Conservation (DOC), volunteering advisor Jill Hetherington said volunteering was on the up, too.

In the financial year ending June 2019 it got 38,179 volunteer workday equivalents. In the financial year ending June 2015 it got 34,789 volunteer workday equivalents.

"Additionally, this has increased from 10 years ago in 2008/09 where the volunteer workday equivalents were 26,256," Hetherington said.

She noted that data was just for people participating in activities led by DOC and didn't include the

"contributions many people make to community conservation groups working independently on public conservation land"

DOC volunteers carry out massive amounts of work - in the financial year to June 2019, 16,258 people volunteering 38,179 workday equivalents, resulting in a total of 305,432 hours.

During Operation Tidy Fox in July and August alone last year, 998 volunteers from Aotearoa and around the world worked almost 20,000 hours to clean up the rubbish that spilled from the closed Fox Glacier landfill into the Fox River and was washed downstream to the sea, Hetherington said.

"Together the combined effort saw more than 1300 rugby fields worth of riverbed and 64km of coastline cleared with 472 fadges (~14,000 household rubbish bags) worth of rubbish picked up."

Volunteers pick up rubbish where a disused Fox River landfill spilled litter on the West Coast.

Volunteers pick up rubbish where a disused Fox River landfill spilled litter on the West Coast. Photo: RNZ / Katie Todd

For both DOC and CVNZ, volunteers mean far more conservation work can be achieved than would otherwise be possible.

O'Grady said "The trees that (were) planted, that rubbish picked up ... I don't think that any of that would have been done without volunteers. I don't see who would have done it.

"There's a lot to do and I think it's extremely important."

Getting involved

You can take part, too.

CVNZ has lots in the works for 2020.

It's Wasp Wipeout programme is expanding to Auckland, the Wellington area, Kapiti and Otago and more people are needed.

"[ccc.govt.nz/news-and-events/whats-on/show/2316 Spade dating]" is making a second appearance on Valentine's Day in Christchurch.

Volunteers are needed in Wellington to help with planting a forest alongside the city's most populated suburbs.

And there's CVNZ training coming up in Auckland to take part in predator control at parks in the city, as well as a range of other projects listed on the website.

DOC has about 60 volunteering opportunities listed on its website.

"These vary from volunteering as a ranger to educate visitors about native wildlife such as dolphins and penguins in Curio and Porpoise Bays, to volunteering with planting, weed control, predator control and wildlife surveys at Awarua-Waituna Wetlands in Southland," Hetherington said.

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