Conservation and Ecological Research Volunteering in South Africa

Join this hands on project as a conservation education or research ecology volunteer and help protect the environmental integrity of Nature's Valley. Volunteers will gain experience in a wide range of skills whilst getting an insight into life as a conservationist in Africa. 

Volunteers can join year round from 2 to 12 weeks in duration. We have places available throughout the year.

Individuals and students all welcome.

Cost for food, accommodation, field experience, transport to and from work, laundry and cleaning, internet and one on one mentoring starts at £415.

A volunteer getting to grips with bird ringingResearch ecology volunteers hard at workVolunteer Karen bird ringing Taking in the viewVolunteers swimming with sealsVolunteers with a rescued penguinResearch includes quantifying and measuring the fish populations Volunteers ready for a day of researchInside the volunteer accommodationBird RingingInterviewing fishermen on the beaches to assess the ecological impact of shore based fisheries. Volunteers preparing to go out to sea

About the Project

Join this hands on Volunteer Programme and help protect the environmental integrity of Nature's Valley. Volunteers will gain experience in a wide range of skills whilst getting an insight into life as a conservationist in Africa.

Conservation Education Volunteers

Volunteers teaching local school children

Become a conservation education volunteer and take part in a grass roots project that brings real change to communities and how they see the natural resources they use. This is an opportunity to engage local school children, project partners, conservation professionals and the local community. Typical activities include:

  • Event assitance and support during holiday programmes
  • Environmental calender days and other events
  • Facilitation of school groups during outdoor classrooms
  • Research support for updating of environmental education resources
  • Planning of outdoor activities with eco clubs and school camps
  • Support and assistance during community projects and events (e.g. tree planting and beach clean-ups)

Research Ecology Volunteers

Releasing a bird after ringing

As a research volunteer you will have the opportunity to join a team of acclaimed biologists with decades of experience in African conservation based research. Working 3 - 4 days a week in the field, this is the perfect insight to life as a conservationist in Africa. 

Research volunteers will work on long term ecological projects, experiencing conservation based research in several different biomes and habitat types including beach, estuary, river, fynbos (shrubland or heathland vegetation), forest and urban areas. This project will give you a range of experience, working with whales, dolphins, fish, aquatic macro invertebrates, seals, marine birds, primates and more!

Free Time for Volunteers

Our conservation work generally runs in-week from Monday to Friday from 8am to 4pm daily. By nature, some work involves getting up early or working late, occasionally we do work stuff on weekends – but this is all optional for volunteers.

Located in Plettenberg Bay and Nature's Valley you will be truly spoilt for choice in your free time. Volunteers can spend their time lounging on stretches of pristine golden beach, exploring the lagoons, estuaries and forests or experience the abundant wildlife on safari at a nearby game reserve. Whale and dolphin watching and swimming with seals also promise a once in a lifetime experience. For adrenaline junkies there is plenty of excitement on offer. The Garden Route has become a  centre for adventure with shark cage diving, parasailing, the world’s highest bungy jump, mountain biking, abseiling and sky diving. There are discounts for volunteers on some of these activities, transport to them over weekends can be provided at nominal rates. 

Dates and Costs

Volunteers fishing at the lagoon

22nd January to 5th February 2019 - Fully Booked
5th to 19th February 2019 - Fully Booked
19th February to 5th March 2019 - Fully Booked
5th to 19th March 2019 - Fully Booked
19th to 2nd April 2019 - Fully Booked
2nd to 16th April 2019 - Fully Booked
16th to 30th April 2019 - Fully Booked
30th April to 14th May 2019 - Fully Booked
14th to 28th May 2019 - Fully Booked
28th May to 11th June 2019 - Fully Booked
11th to 25th June 2019
25th June to 9th July 2019 
- Fully Booked
9th to 23rd July 2019 - Fully Booked
23rd July to 6th August 2019 - Fully Booked
6th to 20th August 2019
20th August to 3rd September 2019
3rd to 17th September 2019
17th September to 1st October 2019
1st to 15th October 2019
15th to 29th October 2019
29th October to 12th November 2019
12th to 26th November 2019
26th November to 10th December 2019
10th to 24th December 2019

All volunteers should start on a Tuesday and you can join for a minimum of 2 weeks up to 12 weeks in duration (long-term internships are also available providing you can get a suitable visa). If you want to start on a Tuesday that is not listed above, that will be fine, all Tuesday starts are accepted - please just note this on your application form. 

The cost to volunteer in South Africa is £415 for 1 week, £635 for 2 weeks, £795 for 3 weeks, £995 for 4 weeks, £1095 for 5 weeks, £1275 for 6 weeks, £1315 for 7 weeks and £1475 for 8 weeks. Included in this price is accommodation, 3 meals per day, field experience, laundry and cleaning, transport to and from work, internet during work, one on one mentoring and WorkingAbroad backup and support. What is not included is your flights and travel to and from the project, visa costs, personal expenses, and your own health and travel insurance.

Food, Lodging, Travel and Climate

Accommodation and Food

Conservation volunteers live in a beautiful house set in tranquil Nature’s Valley itself. Although there are 380 houses in the valley, there are less than 100 permanent residents, so this is the place to chill out! Shared rooms with twin beds are the norm. The large communal kitchen, lounge with a fireplace and outdoor entertainment area is where you will relax, but most spare time will be spent on the beach (1km walk) or at the local pub and restaurant (1km walk). Free wifi is available at the office, or a communal volunteer dongle can be used at the house if you add data. Every volunteer gets a work space in the office (also 1km walk from the house), so there is a comfy place to catch up on admin, write a blog, or do some social media posts. 

Three meals are provided on a daily basis. Menus are drawn up on a case by case basis, and preparation is participatory, i.e. you get a chance to wow with your culinary skills! Vegetarians and other dietary requirements can be catered for, if notified in advance. Tap water is 100% safe, but bottled water is available for purchase from local trading stores if preferred.

Volunteer Accommodation

Travel in South Africa

Volunteers should book their flights into George Airport. Transport from the airport to Nature’s Valley (depending on number of individuals per trip) varies between R 350 – R 650 per person with an airport shuttle.

Passports and Visa

A valid passport with at least 2 blank pages in it, is necessary to enter South Africa. Since visa requirements vary from country to country, please check with your local embassy as to whether a visa is required to enter South Africa.

Volunteer Requirements

Conservation Education Volunteers must:

  • Have an interest in environmental education, conservation, teaching and community work
  • Love the outdoors, be energetic, good with kids, conservation orientated, hands-on workers and knowledgeable about the environment. 

Research Ecology Volunteers must:

  • Have an interest in conservation research 
  • Be willing to work outdoors for long hours
  • Be good team players and committed to upholding scientific integrity
  • Be willing to have fun in a spectacular area for fieldwork

Video & Background

Natures Valley Volunteers

The Project was founded in 2000 when a group of Nature’s Valley families launched a community initiative with the goal of engaging stakeholders and contributing to proactively maintaining the environmental integrity of Nature’s Valley. Nature’s Valley lies on one of the most sought after stretches of South Africa’s coastline and development in the area is occurring at an unprecedented rate. The community has the potential to play a role in ensuring that development is appropriate and sustainable.

The mission of the Nature’s Valley Trust is “To maintain the long term environmental integrity of Nature’s Valley and surrounds by becoming proactively involved in issues that impact on the future of the area”

Volunteer Testimonials 

Volunteer Ben Lucking in South AfricaPrevious volunteer Ben Lucking has written a great blog post filled with details & photos of his experiences at the project. Please click here to read Ben's full blog post about his time at the project, or read on for an extract from his blog.

"My first sights of Nature’s Valley came as we hiked up to the Otter Trail. The valley stretches out in front, and you can see all the way down the coast to Robberg and Plett. The view alone was worth the early climb, but Daniel’s work was also fascinating, especially for a birder like me. Bushwhacking to survey sites left my legs cut up, but endemic species were everywhere. Orange-breasted Sunbirds and Cape Sugarbirds were calling left and right, while Cape Gannets flew between the waves below. Thanks to Daniel’s expertise, we were also able to hear several Victorin’s Warbler and the recently range expanded Lazy Cisticola. I also had my first taste of fieldwork here, and learned about the unique and diverse fynbos, a habitat unique to the Cape region."

Karen Barlow, Texas, USA, volunteered at Natures Valley from May to June:

Karen spent her time assisting with projects on the fynbos, estuary and beach as well as with some of our partners in various animal sanctuaries and at sea. Karen brought energy, enthusiasm and personality into the team and they loved sharing their work with her!

Volunteer Karen out in the fieldNatures Valley volunteers out at sea

Conducting research on the estuary

Olivia Reddy, UK, 24 years old, volunteered at Natures Valley for 4 weeks:Views over the bay

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. The 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. 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. 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.

On my second day at the trust I was whisked off to go whale and dolphin watching out in the deep sea on an Ocean Blue tour. The next week it was back to the sea again, but this time for more than a boat ride. We got all geared up in wetsuits and snorkelling kit, jumped onto a boat and went swimming with Cape Fur Seals! On the weekends we 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. Since being here I have been zip lining through waterfalls, canyoning along the Salt River and even sky diving over Plett!

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.

Volunteers carrying out freshwater research

Felix Zundel, Germany, 20 years old:

The time I spent here was absolutely incredible; I definitely fell in love with this area. The first four months I basically spent based in Natures Valley, I experienced this place out of the season with empty beaches and so much space. It was wonderful. My job during this internship was to interview fishermen on the beaches and collect data concerning litter, catches and attitudes of anglers, enabling the Trust to assess the ecological impact of shore based fisheries. My work would take place in 3 beautiful sections along the famous Garden Route coastline, each completely different. What more could you wish for? Next to my work on the beach I was still participating in all other projects run by the Trust. I took part in educational programs working with children of local communities, I ringed birds, I rescued cormorants and penguins we found on the beaches, I planted trees in local communities, took part in educational planning meetings of communities organised by SANParks. Not to forget the fish netting in the lagoon, quantifying and measuring the fish populations by gill and seine-netting, this was one of my favourite experiences.

I also got to make various contacts and get to know people from different organisations and institutions which I am convinced is going to help me with my future career as networking and working together is one of the most integral parts of the conservation sector. I want to thank everybody I met here for making my stay so special, of course special thanks to the Nature’s Valley Trust and its team for such a good internship. I really fell in love with South Africa and its ocean, so much diversity and beauty in one place is incredible. I will be back ASAP…

View of the LagoonMegan Joanne Harvett, Cape Town, S.A., 21 years old, volunteered for one week at Natures Valley, here's what she had to say:

My week volunteering was more than I expected and I find the experiences too hard to describe as I had an opportunity to be involved in many projects. The Trust is a great nonprofit organization to go and volunteer at not only do you help in projects for a week for example evaluating invasive mosquito fish movement in the estuary, nectar sampling, going for day hikes and working shifts on the beach assessing how vulnerable the White-Fronted Plover is to man and what we can do to create buffer zones for them. The week ended on a special note as I was fortunate to go swim with the seal with Lisa at the offshore adventure in Plettenburg Bay. With these experiences and new knowledge obtained through the week encourages me to keep studying conservation, explore new methods to learn more about the nature we live in just as Albert Einstein said “Look deeply into nature and you will understand everything better.” Thank you to everyone who made this week adventure in Natures Valley possible.

Educating local children about the environment Jessica Hall, Colorado, USA, 18 years old, volunteered for five weeks with the Environmental Education Programme:

Over these five weeks I participated in a multitude of activities working with local school children such as eco-club outings, overnight school camps, and National Water and Wetlands weeks.  For me, five weeks in this breath taking environment was not nearly enough.  Working with the kids was incredibly rewarding; although they were undoubtedly able to take something special away from every activity, I feel I learned even more from them.  The work environment is fun and welcoming; laughter fills the bright office constantly as diligent work is taking place.  Each day brings new knowledge, challenge, and experience. It is located just a half an hour from Plettenberg Bay, making it easy to experience the town of Plett during one’s time here. I have met incredible individuals as a Volunteer with the Trust, and return home having made lifelong friends. I would highly recommend volunteering with the Nature’s Valley Trust. I am proud to be a part of this amazing organization and family. 

Volunteers out in the fieldPete Morely, Plymouth, UK, 25 years old:

I only had a short time to visit Natures Valley Trust but whilst there was made to feel at home very quickly. At uni I studied Environmental Biology and we had several lectures on the South African Fynbos, its ecology and interactions between species that live there. So when I arrived to find a PhD. student carrying out work on the relationships between seed set and bird pollination I was thrilled to be able to experience first-hand the kind of research that I had spent so long reading about in dreary lecture hall in Plymouth. Natures Valley was full of life and without getting off the tracks this was clear with loerie's, sunbirds and sugarbirds overhead and bushbuck hiding in the undergrowth at the side of the road. I am very grateful to Mark and his team at NVT for giving me such a good week as an aspiring ecologist. The trusts office is ideally located just 5 mins from just about everything I could possibly want from ancient forest with massive yellowwood trees all the way to sand dunes with such a great diversity of animal and plant life in between.


Katie Powell, Sheffield, UK, 25 years old, speaks about her time at Natures Valley:

One of the many beaches where volunteers can spend their free timeCurrently moving into my 4th year of studying Zoology at the University of Sheffield, I wanted my summer months to be productive in terms of gaining experience in the field of biodiversity conservation, along with quenching my thirst for exploration and travel. As a volunteer at the Nature’s Valley Trust, I was able to assist with the field research that takes place here on a monthly basis. This means I could take part in the collection of data with the NVT interns for a variety of projects, including the Fynbos pollination-system project, fortnightly bird ringing, invasive fish species monitoring and seine fish netting in the Groot River estuary, and macroinvertebrate sampling in the river itself. In my first month here, the weekends were spent exploring the valley and doing some pretty exciting excursions in the locality with Olivia, who was another UK volunteer here during July. In amongst our walks along the beach and occasional dips in the ocean, we hiked the notorious Kalanderkloof, glided across the Tsitsikamma waterfalls on ziplines, abseiled and jumped our way along the Salt River, swam amongst the 5000 strong cape fur seal colony at Robberg and even managed to throw ourselves out of a plane in a moment of madness.

By volunteering with the Nature’s Valley Trust I have managed to practice the field skills required for ecological research whilst gaining invaluable insight into the legwork behind running a conservation NGO. I now have a better understanding of the importance of the education side to conservation, and how vital it is for such a small NGO to engage with the community. I feel like I’ve made a new group of life-long friends. Staying here and falling in love with the country has opened my eyes to new opportunities, such as potentially returning to South Africa to study for a Masters or PhD degree in the future. So NVT, watch this space!

How to Join the Project

Natures Valley Volunteers

If you are interested in joining this project to volunteer in South Africa, you will need to fill out the online application form (you can also print it out and send it to us by post) – to secure a placement on the project, please complete and submit the form including your application payment of £195. If for some reason, your application is not accepted, we would reimburse this payment fully. However for those who are accepted, 25% of the full amount needs to be paid 14 days after you have been confirmed on the project, with the remainder (75%) to be paid two months before the start date. Once your place is confirmed, you will receive a pre-departure package with all detailed information on your project, the region, suggested items to bring etc. 

Apply Now

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