Volunteering – it’s good for you too!

Sunday 21 June, 2015
The natural environment is where we came from, it’s important to our life, it sustains us and there is something about being in it that I find tremendously uplifting. 
John Furmston, Meredith and Ron McInnes volunteering at Nardoo Hills in Victoria. Photo Heidi Fisher.

This is how Melbourne volunteer Alan Dickerson describes his experience volunteering with Bush Heritage. Since his involvement began seven years ago, Alan’s work around Victoria’s Nardoo Hills, Wedderburn and the Tasmanian Midlands has put him back in touch with nature and his love for the bush.

By volunteering, Alan has joined the estimated 4.4 million Australians contributing around 701 million hours to various volunteering projects each year.

Volunteering is a huge industry in Australia, worth more than $10 billion to the economy. And while much has been written about the benefits of volunteering to the community and environment, new research is shedding light on the physical and mental health benefits to volunteers, particularly those who volunteer in the outdoors.

A recent study conducted by Beyond Blue and Deakin University examined the link between nature and personal health and wellbeing. The resulting research paper ‘Beyond Blue to Green: The benefits of contact with nature for mental health and well-being’ found a clear link between a person’s time outdoors and their sense of physical, emotional and mental health.

Volunteers Ron McInnes (centre) and Kim Ely (left) with Reserve Manager, Leanne Hales on Yourka Reserve, far north Queensland. Photo Heidi Fisher.

In fact, researchers worldwide are finding that regular contact with nature has been linked with health benefits ranging from reducing cholesterol to helping manage diabetes. The psychological benefits of nature include lowering anxiety, stress and depression while simultaneously improving mood and increasing a person’s physical activity.

That’s not to mention the health benefits simply by volunteering. Studies have found over 60% of those who volunteer at least five times a year say it helps them feel less stressed (Nelson 2006). It supports research that showed that volunteering is the second greatest source of joy. Interestingly, dancing came in at number one (Argyle, 1996).

These statistics seem to indicate that people who combine volunteering with working outside are getting the best of both worlds.

Alan can attest to the sense of satisfaction that comes with volunteering in nature. “You’re doing something physical, productive and useful,” he said. “It’s not like sitting down at a coffee shop or going bushwalking by myself. Those things are nice, but it’s that combination of doing useful work in a lovely environment with nice people – it’s just totally satisfying and fulfilling.”

He saw volunteering with Bush Heritage as a chance to do his bit for Australia’s environment. And he wholeheartedly agrees with the Beyond Blue report, saying that environmental volunteering can be a catalyst for social inclusion, co-operation and cohesion.

“The whole world looks better, sometimes right after the first morning tea break,” he jokes. “I’m working with a fantastic team on a good, long term plan I’m passionate about. You can’t ask for much more from a volunteer placement than that.”

Fellow volunteer Ron McInnes agrees. After signing up in the early days of Bush Heritage, he has worked at more than a dozen sites and loves the camaraderie
that comes with volunteering.

“You just meet so many people,” he said. “You’re working alongside these brilliant scientists who teach you things. Then you meet other volunteers who have a lot of experience in different fields and talking with them is just marvellous.

“At the end of the day you sit around the campfire at night, the stars are out and you’re chatting with everybody. The friendships that get formed and the knowledge that gets imparted, it’s just out of this world.”

As an avid cyclist and bushwalker, when Ron found out about the work of Bush Heritage, he couldn’t sign up quick enough.

“The idea of what they’re doing – of buying land to keep in perpetuity and saving the bush – it just excited me,” he said. “You do feel like you’re doing something for Australia.”

“And it’s very physical work, which is great for your health. We’re outside all day in the fresh air working in beautiful scenery. It’s terrific!”

Volunteer Ellie Sobey. Photo Jody Gunn.

ACT volunteer of the year

Bush Heritage volunteer Ellie Sobey was recently awarded ‘Volunteer of the Year 2015 – Arts and Environment’ at the Volunteering ACT Awards.

We nominated Ellie for ecological monitoring work on our Scottsdale Reserve.

We also nominated Brett Howland for his reptile surveys of Scottsdale, our rabbit warren patrollers (Ralph Farnbach, Peter Gloag, Justin Kell and Ellie Sobey) and our macropod monitoring team (Joss Haiblen, Trish McDonald, Peter Hann, Paul Davies and Julie Crawford).

It was fantastic to have a forum to gather and celebrate the volunteers at our Scottsdale Reserve. Paul Davies summed up the mood afterwards saying “Bush Heritage respects and honours the skills and experience of volunteers and allows us to do what we love, along with our friends, to make a difference to the Australian Bush”.

Congratulations Ellie and thank-you to all of our incredible volunteers!

Did you know...

Did you know our volunteers contributed 20,000 hours to over 300 diverse volunteer opportunities so far in 2015?

We’d like to thank all our volunteers for their incredible contribution. To get involved, see our volunteering pages.

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