A volunteers experience by Elrea Appelgryn

Elrea Appelgryn
2 July 2014

I joined the NVT at the end of May for six-weeks as a volunteer after completing my MSc in Genetics at the University of Pretoria. I decided to join the NVT team in order to experience something different to my own, predominantly laboratory-based research and everyday life in Pretoria, as well as taking an important break before starting my PhD in July. I am leaving with achieving this, but also learned so much along the way.


Posing with a Cape Sugarbird

During my time with the Trust I had the opportunity to become involved with all the different research projects and programmes run by Mark and the team, and I learned something (and often many things!) from every single experience. I spent time with Babalwa and Ruth sampling macroinvertebrates in the Groot River for Babalwa’s river health project, learned more about the flowers in the fynbos from the very knowledgeable Kellyn and Maaike, and helped Minke with her kelp gull research. During bird ringing Mark and Minke shared their passion for birds, and I held and released some of the beautiful birds of the fynbos. One of my favourite experiences during my stay in Natures Valley was releasing a Pale Chanting Goshawk after Mark and Minke ringed it-amazing!

Elrea PCG

holding a Pale Chanting Gowshawk

During my time in Natures Valley I also visited some of the lovely attractions in the area. I thoroughly enjoyed swimming with seals from the seal colony at Robberg, and whale watching out in the bay on a boat with Olivia and Yola. Another big favourite was visiting Radical Raptors (twice!), and getting to know and admire the birds up close and personal. I also got to fully appreciate the excellent work Dennis does when I joined Minke and Ruth to ring and release a Forest Buzzard nursed back to health by Dennis. Hiking to the Salt River and walking on Robberg were favourite experiences as well.

elrea salt river trail

Walking along the Salt River trail and getting up close and personal with the birds at Radical Raptors

My six weeks in Natures Valley, during which I was surrounded by many passionate conservationists, reiterated the importance of appreciating and protecting our natural environment in my mind. It is something we are all aware of, but often forget, especially those of us who do not work in the conservation sphere in our daily lives. It is important that every person does their part, whether it involves working in conservation full-time as a researcher, spreading the message through education, being involved in formulating or implementing policy, or at the very least just supporting great organizations dedicated to preserving our natural heritage.

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Sampling macroinvertebrates in the Groot River

Working with Yanga and Yola on the Adopt-a-River and Adopt-a-Beach programmes respectively, and helping with the greening in Kurland gave me first-hand experience in the Trust’s environmental education and community programmes. The NVT plays an important role in instilling a sense of responsibility and accountability in the youth of the area, the conservationists of tomorrow, and in combination with the research projects, makes quite an holistic contribution to conservation efforts in the region.

swim with seals

Swimming with seals

Walking to work in such beautiful surroundings, having lunch at the benches overlooking the lagoon and hearing the cries of the fish eagles while sitting in the office is a far cry from quickly grabbing lunch between experiments in the laboratory, and experiences I will always remember. However, the people I have met have played just an important role in making this such an interesting and unforgettable six weeks. Thank you Babalwa for providing me with ample opportunity to make fun at you! Kellyn, Ruth, Yanga and Yola for always being friendly and helpful, and Minke for keeping me entertained. Lastly Mark and his family, for being some of the kindest people I have ever met.

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Releasing the Pale Chanting Goshawk

“Earth provides enough so satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed”- Mahatma Gandhi

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