The day couldn’t be any more perfect. Here I am, casually strolling along the crest of the Serpentine Range with the morning sun warming my cheeks. My eyes are constantly distracted by the grandeur of Tūtoko standing tall above the valley fog. But at the sound of a tiny ‘eeep… eeep,’ my attention is drawn from one of Fiordland’s largest features to one of its very smallest.
The tiny Rock Wren dances frantically across the boulders, then disappears into a cleft above another of those long wooden boxes which dot the ridge crest. My perfect day is enriched even more having had the privilege of an encounter with Xenicus gilviventris. I mutter a quiet “thank you” to the volunteers of the Routeburn – Dart Wildlife Trust, who placed and maintained all those traps. There is no doubt these volunteers have an even deeper satisfaction having tramped far from the road, with a delicate load of eggs, to witness a tiny fruit of their labour flitting through the boulderfields.
Our new celebrated activity
FMC is delighted to announce volunteering for biodiversity as the next celebrated activity for the Outdoor Community campaign. Over the next 12 months, we will be sharing stories and inspiration from people in our outdoor community whose recreation often includes a practical element of conservation.
The scope of our look at volunteering for biodiversity is deliberately wide: we’ll take the time for a fresh look at FMC clubs and organisations running pest trapping programmes, but there are many more ways that members of our community give up their time to actively increase the health and richness of the ecosystems within which we recreate.
Invasive flora control
Whilst arguably less glamorous than protecting beautiful native birds, volunteers who take action to safeguard native vegetation associations are playing an important part in protecting our natural environments and our cherished recreational opportunities. Among the hundreds of community “weedbuster” organisations are wilding conifer control groups, which are chopping, sawing and poisoning these fireweeds. On a tramp, we expect to climb above treeline around 1000m, but if wilding conifers continue to spread at their current rate of 5% per year, we are staring down the barrel of a future with no summit views on peaks as high as 2700m.¹
Tree skiing anyone? That’s if there’s any snow in the future to ski on…
¹ Pinus Mungo / Mountain pine, one of the invading wilding conifers grows to 2400-2700m in its native European range.
Not all volunteering for biodiversity culminates in the death of one organism in favour of another. Many outdoor recreationalists add depth to their trips by participating in citizen science along the way. At one end of the spectrum, people can contribute casual observations to the Kea Database or iNaturalist, which help researchers understand species distribution and population trends. At the other end, some dedicated volunteers use their years of mountaineering experience to look for new species of invertebrates in remote locations or high alpine environments. There’s a mind-boggling array of citizen science projects which you can participate in to add even more richness and diversity to your trips to the hills.
Why has FMC chosen
volunteering for biodiversity?
As members of the outdoor community, we’ve all got a vested interest in preserving the places and creatures we recreate amongst, not only against poor management or harmful commerce, but against nature’s biological threats too. Increasing our knowledge of and connection with our fellow species in the hills, only adds to the richness and satisfaction of our outdoor experience.
We want to inspire a few more of you to consider lending your hand, and show you how an occasional bit of volunteering for biodiversity can be a highly satisfying addition to your traditional habits of mountain recreation.
Who is involved?
A significant proportion of the FMC community are already participating. In a 2015 survey conducted by FMC, 32 of our clubs reported their members engaging in ‘conservation volunteering’, either in club-run projects, or as individuals for other organisations.
Whether by volunteering directly for DOC, or joining any of the programs run by the countless charitable trusts, members of our FMC community have just the skills and motivations needed for the task, especially where the projects are remote. These days, many of us have a sense of belonging to multiple communities and groups, so even though your club might not have its own project, chances are you’ll bump into club-mates if you volunteer your time at the project down the road.
Naturally, volunteering for biodiversity projects are bread and butter ‘club trips’ for the branches of a kindred organisation, Forest & Bird.
Our cousins from the Deerstalkers Association are also strongly involved. The NZDA Taupo branch provides leadership, funding and volunteers for a whio recovery project in the headwaters of the Mohaka River. NZDA Southland has organised gorse eradication and rat trapping projects on Rakiura/Stewart Island since 2010. Head office NZDA has established the ‘Farmers Assist’ program, which matches accredited NZDA hunters with farmers who need pests controlled on their properties. Just a few examples and no doubt there are many more.
Although with our kindred organisations, there are issues where we agree to disagree, there is simply more that we have in common than we have in difference. At a wilding conifer volunteer day, it’s not uncommon to see hunters, trampers and Forest & Bird members working side by side. These aspirations of protecting our natural environments and recreational opportunities are common and it can only do us all good to work together and consider lending a hand.
You never know, you might just enjoy it…
Image credits to Anthony Behrens and Danilo Hegg
How can you support this project?
We’re inviting you to share your accounts of Volunteering for Biodiversity. With stories like yours, we can inspire others to give volunteering a try. For more information or to submit your story, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.