"The valley stretches out in front, and you can see all the way down the coast to Robberg and Plett"
Previous volunteer Ben Lucking
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.”
"Assisting with projects on the fynbos, estuary and beach"
Karen Barlow, Texas, USA
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!
"Natures Valley is such a beautiful place"
Olivia Reddy, UK, 24 years old
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 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.
"My work would take place in 3 beautiful sections along the famous Garden Route coastline"
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…
"Thank you to everyone who made this week adventure possible"
Megan Joanne Harvett, Cape Town, S.A., 21 years old
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.
"Each day brings new knowledge, challenge, and experience"
Jessica Hall, Colorado, USA, 18 years old
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.
"I was thrilled to be able to experience first-hand the kind of research I had spent so long reading about"
Pete 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.
"Staying here and falling in love with the country has opened my eyes"
Katie Powell, Sheffield, UK, 25 years old
Currently 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!