I had some great news at the end of last week. I’ve been awarded an RGS-IBG Small Research Grant for my project on Environmental Volunteering and the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), Cornwall, UK. Please find further details below. I really can’t wait to get started on this project.
Project Abstract: The geographic study of environmental volunteers and their contribution to biodiversity monitoring is a small but growing field. The proposed project examines more fully the role, contribution and value of the volunteer to our knowledge of the effects of environmental change and the subsequent development of conservation policy, through a detailed study of the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) in Cornwall, UK.
Continuing a tradition started in 1947, WeBS is one of the largest and longest-established volunteer monitoring programmes in the world. The UK is of outstanding international importance for waterbirds and WeBS data have underpinned much of the conservation legislation designed to protect these species. The present-day count requires over 3000 volunteers to participate in synchronised monthly counts at specific wetland sites (patches), mainly during the winter period. The volunteer counter’s knowledge and enthusiasm is invaluable to this process.
This RGS-IBG Small Research Grant is organised around the linked themes of enthusiasm, place-attachment and environmental knowledge in order to capture the experiences of volunteer counters and nature conservation professionals. The project will explore what motivates WeBS volunteers and understand how these motivational forces (enthusiasm) could be harnessed and applied to biodiversity monitoring in other contexts.
Research Objectives: This project will develop research material for three WeBS sites in Cornwall, UK, between July 2011 and February 2012 (location selected for mild climate and as harbinger of potential environmental changes to come elsewhere in the UK) through interviews with WeBS counters and staff. The research objectives of this study are:
- to explore the value of enthusiasm to environmental volunteering;
- to examine the motivational role that place-attachment plays in volunteer counting;
- to investigate the significance of volunteer counters to environmental knowledge production;
- to contribute to geographical knowledge on environmental volunteering and assess how volunteer enthusiasm can be harnessed and applied to other contexts.
The project will address three key strands:
- Enthusiasm is the passionate pursuit of an activity, interest or cause. This project examines the rich and complex culture of enthusiasm surrounding volunteer counters (Lorimer 2008), addressing questions of knowledge politics, practices and sustained interest. The proposed research examines how enthusiasm counts as a major motivating force for volunteers and how it is valued by professionals.
- Lawrence (2009) argues that we need to understand more fully the ‘inner dimensions’ of volunteer knowledge creation. Drawing on recent theorisations of landscape as embodied and lived, this project considers the role of being in place and the importance of place to counters. Often fiercely proud of their ‘patch’, the research investigates the volunteer’s attachment to specific wetland sites in order to reveal the value of place to environmental volunteering.
- Alongside the commitment to count on a regular basis, the volunteer must also possess significant expertise in order to identify waterbirds. This project records the ways in which environmental knowledges are received and shared in networks within and beyond WeBS. Identified by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) as a group whose data make a significant contribution to understandings of environmental change, this study investigates how volunteer enthusiasm and knowledge could be harnessed and applied to biodiversity monitoring in other contexts.
* RGS-IBG Small Grant Scheme: several awards of up to £3,000 for original desk and/or field-based research. Aimed at scholarly researchers early in their career, these awards are available to Society members and Fellows.