The Department of Conservation (DOC) is celebrating 25 years of its Southland and Otago Conservation Volunteer Programme.

Date:  20 February 2014

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is celebrating 25 years of its Southland and Otago Conservation Volunteer Programme.

Volunteers and staff are celebrating the milestone this Saturday, with a planting event at Anderson Park in the afternoon, followed by a reunion dinner with DOC Director General Lou Sanson as guest speaker. 

The annual booklet of volunteer opportunities was first published in the summer of 1988/89.

Launched as ‘Project Conservation’ it was modelled on a working holiday programme run by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV).

Fergus Sutherland was contracted to get the programme up and running in Southland and it was part of a national push to get volunteers involved in a systematic way with DOC.

“I had just returned from the United Kingdom where I had been volunteering with the BTCV.  I was particularly inspired by how the Trust used experienced people to lead projects that had significant environmental education and skill acquisition elements.  The projects also fostered enjoyment of working together and the social side of volunteering”, Mr Sutherland said.

The first project was a rare bird survey in the Catlins assisting DOC staff to count Whio, Mohua and Kaka.  Sixteen other projects followed throughout 1989 ranging from weed and pest control, hut restorations, fence surveys, penguin counts and beach plastic pollution monitoring.  A total of 82 people volunteered that season and the programme has steadily grown in popularity ever since.

Southland and Otago Volunteer coordinator Jenny Sycamore says there are over thirty-seven projects in the current booklet providing a variety of opportunities for different fitness and skill levels.

‘We estimate that over three thousand volunteers have participated in our programme over the past twenty five years.  The contribution the volunteers have made to conservation in our region is huge. 

Volunteers extend and augment the work of paid staff and bring new insights, energy and time to the work.  They are passionate, dedicated people who come back year after year to help make a difference.  It’s fantastic to be able to honour their contribution at this weekend’s celebrations,’ she said.

If you would like further information on volunteer opportunities, see volunteer projects.

Background information

First project – Rare Bird survey – Maclennan Forest, 4 – 10 December 1988 Assisting DOC to count Blue Duck, Mohua and Kaka, 6 people   Donation $10

Other projects following that first year – Weed and Forest Management - Pukerau, Penguin Counts and Stoat Trapping – Owaka, Wilding Pine survey and removal – East Dome, Historic site restoration, historic hut restoration, fence survey, Beach plastic pollution monitoring and weed control on Stewart Island and Tahakopa Bay.

17 projects total in the first booklet. 37 projects in total in 2013/2014 booklet

Total number of volunteers participating has grown from 82 in the first 1988/89 season to over 160 this season.

Initial slogan was – ‘We’re in it together’   (with a thumb’s up)

Initial volunteer contributions ranged from $5 to $100, today volunteer contributions range from several free opportunities to a cost of $6,000 for the opportunity to visit the Auckland Islands.  This covers their food and transport costs.

The programme grew quickly and the 1990/91 booklet had an outstanding 30 projects.

Stone wall building workshop was held in 1989 and was very popular with volunteers learning new skills and building something for the community.  This continued on for 5 years

2001 – The year of the volunteer. Volunteer reunion held in Athol with a mix of community projects, DOC projects, community partnerships.  Approx 400 hours of work was undertaken by volunteers over the week.

Southland and Otago are believed to be the first regions in New Zealand to develop a formal conservation volunteer programme back in 88/89

The event is being held at Anderson Park which is managed by the Invercargill City Council (ICC) DOC and ICC are working in partnership for this event.

Related link

Volunteer projects.


Philippa Christie (regarding celebrations)
Partnerships Ranger
+64 21 2353595

Jenny Sycamore
Volunteer Coordinator
+64 3 2112 484

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