My first impression of Natures Valley was “Wow, this place is beautiful! I can’t believe I’m going to be living here for the next month!” That was 4 weeks ago and I still can’t get over how stunning it is here.
At home I am studying for a BSc in Environmental Science at The University of the West of England, Bristol and have just finished my second year. Unlike most people at Natures Valley Trust I don’t have a background in conservation, my interests lie in environmental politics and science communication. I was already going to come to South Africa this year for a holiday to visit my family across the country, so I decided to extend my stay and volunteer for a month. I chose to volunteer here because I believe that it’s important to understand how people undertake research and also why they research certain things. I also wanted to take part in filed work and try and learn some more things about practical conservation!
The Natures Valley Trust volunteer programme only ever has a maximum of 2-3 volunteers staying at one time. Because of this you are given much more responsibility within the organisation and are given a more tailored programme. This is how I knew that although I don’t have a background in conservation my time would by no means be wasted here. I have had fun undertaking field work, getting muddy and wet and covered in sand whilst gaining practical conservation skills such as bird netting, fish netting and various types of identification.
But for me the most valuable part of my stay has been watching, observing and learning how an NGO works. I’ve learnt a lot from Mark about the long term running and difficulties that face such a small organisation, from funding and membership to helping inform policies by the research that is being undertaken. I find it incredible and inspiring how much of himself he puts into his work and the support that he is given by his family and staff to be able to achieve things that you wouldn’t expect a small organisation to be able to achieve. I’ve learnt a lot about the role that social media plays in helping the organisation gain momentum and a following as well as how important it is to not always keep it serious!
Being part of the volunteer programme has not only allowed me to experience working and living as part of an NGO but has also allowed me to undertake once in a life-time experiences thanks to Mark and his many connections! On my second day at the trust I was whisked off to go whale and dolphin watching out in the deep sea with Yola and Elrea on an Ocean Blue tour. Here I saw Brydes Whales which ended up swimming under our boat! It was incredible to get so close to such a magnificent animal.
The following week I was out at sea again, but this time on a pelagic bird boat trip with Katie and Kellyn. Unfortunately the day was cut short due to unruly seas, but we still managed to see Gannets, Skuas, Cormorants and Terns and had a great boat journey at the same time! The next week it was back to the sea again, but this time for more than a boat ride. Katie, Yanga and I got all geared up in wetsuits and snorkelling kit, jumped onto a boat and went swimming with Cape Fur Seals!
On the weekends Katie and I managed to get out and about around the local area. Natures Valley is such a beautiful place that we spent many days and afternoons walking along the beach and eating at the amazing restaurant in the valley.
We also managed to go further afield to undertake in more adventurous activities! Since being here I have been zip lining through waterfalls, canyoning along the Salt River and even sky diving over Plett!
While being at Natures Valley Trust I have overcome a lot of fears that I once had, and not just my fear of heights by jumping out of a plane! My first week here I realised that I wasn’t the biggest fan of birds and wasn’t really looking forward to mornings of bird netting, ringing and releasing. Since then I have held birds, released them and even taken them out of the nets myself (even if I did have some help)! I have also become a lot more comfortable with insects, especially spiders, and didn’t mind them crawling over my arm while I was kayaking! I even held and measured fish when we were seine fish netting which I’m very proud of.
On leaving Natures Valley Trust I’m not only leaving with practical skills in conservation and NGO management, but also with increased self-confidence and another family in South Africa.