“You can’t save the whole world, but you can protect a tiny part of it.”

This modest statement comes from a volunteer with the Danish Bird Protection Foundation describing the commitment to a large number of nature management projects in the Foundation’s bird sanctuaries. Nature management requires the right workwear, so a grant to pay for garments suitable for these activities was greatly appreciated.

Sanctuaries for birds and other wildlife

The main task of Fugleværnsfonden, the Danish Bird Protection Foundation, is to protect and nurture habitats for birds, especially vulnerable and threatened species, and other wildlife. This is achieved by procuring, managing and enhancing sites that are already or can become good bird locations. Bird protection requires sound habitats, and today the Foundation manages 21 bird sanctuaries totalling 960 hectares, which by means of targeted nature management and appropriate restoration of natural landscape features are ensured the highest possible biodiversity and habitat quality.

Unique birdlife experiences

The majority of the Danish Bird Protection Foundation bird sanctuaries have their own local volunteer groups, who perform valuable tasks in nature management and awareness-raising activities. The work groups bring many invaluable resources to the Foundation, while ensuring that the sanctuaries benefit from a level of community support that could not be drummed up from head office. The voluntary work groups are supplied with the necessary tools and equipment, finances permitting, but are obviously not paid for their time. They are, however rewarded by unique opportunities for experiencing local birdlife and for making a difference in their local sanctuary. Besides which, on project days, there is always time for breaks and socialising within the group.

Voluntary work group from the Gundsømagle Sø sanctuary. Photo: Kirsten Pedersen

A joint commitment

The members of the work groups feel a huge responsibility for their sanctuary and the various habitat-specific projects. Jointly, and following careful planning, the members fell trees, clear unwanted new vegetation, cut hay with a scythe, maintain public facilities, perform counts of breeding birds, conduct guided trails and other public events, combat invasive species such as giant hogweed and Rosa rugosa and much more.

The list is long, and the various skills of the individual group members are often mutually complementary. They work as a team, which creates a lasting sense of community.

Tasks for all volunteers

The tasks performed by the volunteers are highly diverse depending on individual interest, ability and the sanctuary. But it is always up to the individual volunteers which and how many tasks they sign up for. There’s no need to be an expert on birds, as there is a job to suit everyone, as long as it benefits the birdlife.

Some types of tasks require physical strength, such as at the Nyord Enge sanctuary, where the coastal fencing is dismantled in time for winter every November. This work is done in waders, several metres out in the cold seawater. One of the participants is Holger, who, at the age of 80, is the work group’s oldest member.

As a volunteer, there are many opportunities to share the joys of birdwatching at public event-days and other social functions held in the sanctuaries. At these events, the volunteers turn up with binoculars and telescopes to tell visitors about the birds and habitats they know all about from their work in the sanctuary. Anyone can volunteer, even those who are not into full-scale interventions or intensive bird- watching. In fact, most of the voluntary work involves more everyday hands-on nature management between these two extremes. A nice cake is also an important and sociable supplement to the wellbeing of a voluntary work group, not least during a long working day in the service of local birdlife.

Broadened horizons

The Danish Bird Protection Foundation draws up long-term nature management plans for each sanctuary, focusing on rare and threatened flora and fauna, and also on living up to the obligations that ensue from the European Union’s Natura 2000 plans created to ensure the biodiversity of special nature protection areas and their especially vulnerable habitats. The voluntary work groups support all of the national and supranational measures, which give them real insights into the ecological concerns of nature conservation. They gain insights into the challenges and benefits of helping to protect natural sustainability and diversity, and the importance for the future of making a difference.

Volunteers are the cornerstone of the Foundation’s work

The jackets for the volunteer work groups help to create a common identity and signal affinity and authority. Everyone can see that the wearer is a nature guardian at work to conserve local biodiversity, and that it is OK that he or she fells a tree or asks dog owners to keep their dogs on a leash. The voluntary work groups are a key characteristic of the Foundation and indispensible in maintaining its national presence. They ensure local support, commitment and publicity for the Foundation’s activities. Many of these work groups have existed with the same membership for decades, which says it all: voluntary commitment to nature management adds value to people’s lives in both the short and the long term.

By Elise Frydensberg

Elise Frydensberg (b. 1950) holds a degree in biology and has been the director of the Danish Bird Protection Foundation since 1991. She has experience as a teacher trainer and in supervising local-authority nature management projects. Her work involves management, fundraising, budgets, contact with the Foundation’s voluntary work groups and partners, together with a range of administrative tasks surrounding management of the Foundation’s sanctuaries.