You don't need to travel very far to become involved in conservation and helping the environment. Although an overseas trip to save the turtles in Costa Rica or the orangutans in Indonesia might sound glamorous, there are plenty of environmental volunteering opportunities that are closer to home – and free. By helping out in your own local area, you get to see the difference that your efforts make over time. It's also a great way to meet people from the local community, and to learn (and teach others) about the environment in your local area.
In Melbourne, we are never too far from nature, whether it's the beaches and marine life of Port Phillip Bay, local parks and reserves, or waterways such as creeks, wetlands, rivers and lakes. Our urban area can also be surprisingly alive with native wildlife, particularly possums and birds.
Many of these natural assets are protected, maintained and promoted through the hard work and passion of the local community. Activities might range from hand weeding around threatened plants, planting trees, fixing walking tracks, recording wildlife sightings, running educational programs, propagating seedlings or checking nest boxes.
All of these activities are essential for the ongoing conservation and understanding of our local environment, and for making sure that the next generation has the opportunity to experience it as well.
Almost every park, reserve and waterway in Melbourne has a volunteer "Friends" group. These groups run a variety of regular volunteer activities to help manage and conserve their local asset. This often includes regular weeding and planting days, as well as activities such as bird watching or water quality testing. Many Friends groups also run walks and tours and have regularly scheduled working bees.
You can search on Parks Victoria's website ParkConnect by activity or by group to find something that suits you. Checking the website of your local Council is also a good starting point to find out about the Friends groups in your area.
Melbourne has an abundance of indigenous plant nurseries, including Council-run nurseries like Bayside Community Nursery, volunteer-run nurseries such as Community of Ringwood Indigenous Species Plant Nursery (CRISP) and non-profit co-operatives such as the Victorian Indigenous Nurseries Co-operative (VINC). Most nurseries have regular volunteer sessions that involve tasks such as sowing seeds, propagating plants from cuttings, seed collecting and helping with plant sales. It's a great way to get to know the indigenous plants of your area and to improve your own gardening skills.
Conservation Volunteers run a huge variety of volunteer activities across Australia. Many are free, although some that involve trips away have a cost involved. In Melbourne, there are plenty of free activities to sign up to, such as revegetation, habitat restoration and weeding. For some activities, transport is provided to the location. Many projects book out quickly so make sure you check the list of available projects early.
Beach Patrol is a collective of volunteer community groups associated with a particular beach around Port Phillip Bay. By becoming a member you pledge one hour of your time per month cleaning up rubbish at your local beach. This can be done in your own time or as part of a regularly organised group clean up. At the end of each cleanup, the rubbish is weighed and recorded so that the efforts of each group can be monitored over time.
An increasing number of organisations are taking advantage of phone and GPS technology to create apps and websites for the collection of data on wildlife sightings. Many of these apps and websites are available for the general public to contribute their sightings of local species, helping organisations to build a better collective understanding of the ecology and distribution of our native species.
For example, Melbourne Water runs the Frog Census program through an app that members of the public can download onto their phone. The app is free and available for both Android and Apple phones. The website has lots of information on where to find frogs and how you can start as a beginner frog watcher. All you have to do is follow the prompts in the app to record frog calls and submit them to Melbourne Water.