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The seminar Labour of Love – Volunteering for Parks was held in Tikkurila (Vantaa) Finland on October 5-7, 2011. It was organised by Metsähallitus Natural Heritage and EUROPARC Nordic-Baltic Section secretariat, with the support of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.

Read Liisa Kylliäinen’s report below.

All presentations are available in the right hand side column. More photos are available on flickr.
 to the organisations represented at the seminar are to be found at the bottom of the page.
Plus, read more about eg. the Green Gym volunteering programme in the UK, on the page of our Health Working Group.

Labour of Love – Volunteering for Parks seminar

Report by
Liisa Kylliäinen, Metsähallitus Natural Services

The seminar Labour of Love – Volunteering for Parks gathered 35 experts and actors in volunteer work, representing protected areas and NGO’s in all Nordic and Baltic countries except Norway, plus Russia, Germany, Great Britain and Italy. During three dynamic days in Tikkurila, Finland, all aspects of how to organise voluntary work in protected areas were discussed and illustrated by case studies from close and afar.

The seminar was organised by Metsähallitus Natural Heritage Services together with the EUROPARC Nordic-Baltic Section secretariat. It was supported by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.

The importance of volunteering – “Working together for the future of the planet”

The European Year of Volunteering 2011 has brought some attention to volunteer work. Nevertheless, the subject ought to be even more promoted and discussed. Not least because of the important role that work done by volunteers plays in nature conservation and protected area management. The extent to which volunteering and volunteering programmes have been developed in Nordic and Baltic protected areas varies greatly between countries. Existing such programmes are also designed differently. Thus, there is a lot that we can learn by drawing from each other’s experiences and by exchanging ideas within the network.

Many positive examples show the benefits and positive impact that volunteering has on both on the individual and society on many levels. It may be used to involve minorities, migrants and disabled people. Volunteering may even help reduce problems in society, such as e.g. crime. Positive examples prove that volunteering can be much more than just the hard work.

The social aspect is an important part of volunteering. Since people are not paid for doing the work, it should give them something else in return. As a reward for volunteering several things were mentioned. Out of these the most important ones appear to be improving health and well being, helping the environment, learning something new (educational objective), and just purely having fun. However, drawing from their own experiences, several volunteer coordinators also stressed the importance of showing appreciation for the volunteers’ work, not only through meaningful and varied work tasks, but also eg. social events in the evenings and excursions or study visits. Some sort of certificate or diploma, to recognise the contribution by volunteers and their acquired skills, were also mentioned.

Challenges in planning and implementing voluntary work

The basis for organising volunteer work is good: People usually want to “do good” and in general participation in voluntary activities is valued socially. Volunteering is promoted under many names such as conservation holidays and camps. Quite often, people are even willing to pay for attending volunteering activities.

Despite the growing interest in volunteering  and the fact that it generates benefits on many levels, there are challenges to face both in planning and nationwide and/or international promotion. There are differences between countries in the practical aspects of implementation, such as how accommodation or insurance for volunteers is provided, but also more significant problems common to everyone appeared in the presentations. The biggest challenge seems to be how to prove and name the benefits of volunteering and promote this valuable work. There is also the question of funding a volunteering programme. In organising voluntary work, an initial investment is usually required to collect the benefits of volunteering later on.

Other recognised problems are a lack of national or otherwise organised system of planning in many countries, as well as the challenge of organising training for people to guide volunteers. Some organisations use experienced volunteers to be leaders of the volunteer groups and even as coordinators of the voluntary work projects. In many cases the strategy and planning of voluntary work is organised based on lessons learned. It was said that planning also needs to be based on developed research. For instance, to extend the possibilities for people to participate in volunteering, there should be “something for everyone” – different time frames and programmes for different groups of people. In this case, going straight to the source has proved effective: Simply asking people if they want to volunteer and what they want to do. This would then be matched with the needs of the protected area.

As many of the speakers pointed out, it is also important to involve local people. That is why a more communicative approach is needed, to encourage and activate local entrepreneurs and population. Involving locals can help breaking the negative attitudes that still exist in some countries towards volunteering.

Summing up

The last day’s voluntary work in Sipoonkorpi National Park revealed all the best aspects of volunteering in practice. The work was organised in the real spirit of Labour of Love and included clearing wood to manage a meadow. Everyone had great fun and the results of the volunteering work itself was clearly visible. Another group of volunteers worked in a more educational way, collecting and identifying mushrooms and sharing their knowledge with the others.

A wish for volunteering activities as part of (all!) future seminars was presented after the volunteering session.  Such activities could be similar to the ones experienced here, or any other task related to protected area management. The important thing would be to share experiences and take part in the work of colleagues in a most practical, hands-on way.

The seminar was successful in fulfilling its aims: exchanging experiences and sharing practical working models for volunteering in protected areas. The discussions gave important new perspectives and best practice examples for the participants. Hopefully in the future, the contacts and networks established in this seminar will stay active and are used for further development of this important work.

With contribution by Lena Malmström, EUROPARC Nordic-Baltic Section


If you are interested in the volunteering programmes organised by the organisations represented at the seminar, please follow the links to their websites below.