What motivates the green volunteer?

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Countless numbers of volunteers throughout the world are dedicated to nature: via citizen science or through activities like planting trees or organizing nature excursions. But who are these people and why do they take action? On 16 March Wessel Ganzevoort will defend his Ph.D. this on his research on the green volunteer in the Netherlands.

Green volunteering is dynamic, difficult to count and comes in all shapes and sizes. "For example, there are about 15,000 classical nature observers, but 200,000 people took part in this year's annual garden bird count. A yearly tree-planting day? That's essentially also green work," says Ganzevoort. An estimated 130,000 people structurally do green volunteer work in their leisure time. "But it's very hard to give exact figures."

Shapes and sizes

What motivates the green volunteer?
The age distribution of respondents in the survey on green volunteers. Credit: Radboud University

Roughly speaking, Ganzevoort differentiates between four types: the recorders (people who take part in by counting, for example, butterflies or birds), the restorers (who work on nature restoration and maintenance), and the educators (who participate in nature education, for example for young people). A fourth group is active in management and policymaking.

The green volunteer is very important to nature organizations. "90 percent of the Vlinderstichting's [Butterfly Foundation] data on the number of butterflies in the Netherlands comes from volunteers. They also play an important role in education and the maintenance of nature reserves: partly thanks to nearly 80,000 volunteers, the provincial Landscape Foundations are able to maintain more than 100,000 hectares of Dutch landscape and the IVN [Institute for Nature Education] alone has about 6,000 volunteers who are active in numerous courses, excursions and campaigns.

About 4,000 green volunteers took part in Ganzevoort's questionnaire about their background, and experience. Certain groups appeared to be over-represented among the volunteers. "You mainly see people with a high level of education. The average age is also high (62), and many of those who record biodiversity are men." The green volunteer is often involved in more than one type of green volunteer work, often via a nature organization. Nature restoration is the most frequent activity. Counters are interested in all sorts of species, although birds clearly hold first place.

What motivates the green volunteer?
Green volunteers’ motivations for their volunteer work. Credit: Radboud University


What motivates green volunteers in their work? Regardless of the type of volunteer work, the volunteers' core motivations appeared to be their contribution to nature conservation and a personal connection to nature. Additional diverse motivations also play a role, such as being outdoors, learning about nature and working with other people.

The study also showed that green volunteers who are active as citizen scientists are not so much driven by science as they are by protecting nature and their personal knowledge of and attachment to nature. Given the enormously growing popularity of citizen science, important lessons can be learned here. The motivations of volunteers can differ from those of the organizers, and insight into their motivations is crucial to the ability to involve citizen scientists.

How do you stimulate young people to act?

Although it seems difficult to find young volunteers, Ganzevoort thinks that there are good ways of stimulating them to act. "If the work is made more flexible for them, they're willing to help. Volunteer work is often organized in such a way that it takes place on one fixed day per week. It would help, for example, if could take part now and again."

Ganzevoort concludes his thesis by emphasizing that it's important to consider the people behind volunteer work, their perspectives and motivations. Tips that Ganzevoort can offer nature organizations include further strengthening the support and appreciation they offer their volunteers. The research also showed that giving them feedback on what their work contributes to research or nature conservation is an important motivational factor for volunteers.

Provided by Radboud University

Citation: What motivates the green volunteer? (2021, March 16) retrieved 12 April 2024 from https://phys.org/news/2021-03-green-volunteer.html
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