CVA Updates

Cultivating a Sense of Community and Belonging through Conservation

Have you ever wondered how involvement in community conservation activities can impact the lives and wellness of migrant communities across Australia?

A recently published book contains a chapter titled “Environmental Place-Making by the ‘Out of Place’”, which explores how migrants to Australia are able to build connections to new landscapes through structured conservation activities.

Authored by Pauline Marsh, Suzanne Mallick, Dave Kendal, and Renae Riviere, this research was sponsored by Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA) via a grant from the John T Reid Charitable Trusts. Participants in the study included adult migrants, teachers and volunteers who were part of the Cross Cultural Conservation Programme, delivered by CVA in collaboration with TasTAFE. This Programme, which provided hands-on conservation experience, was aligned with the goals of the TasTAFE AMEP course.

The study explored whether structured community conservation activities like weeding, planting in gardens and bush care projects, could help migrants overcome their feelings of being isolated and out of place.

Excitingly, the study’s research findings show that involvement in community conservation programmes can indeed have a positive impact on health and wellbeing, and can help create social connections and improve self-esteem and happiness.

Below is a summary of some of the key findings and insights and an explanation of how CVA’s Nature Blocks initiative, in partnership with the Bupa Foundation, enables action for nature while improving wellbeing.

A Study on How Conservation Activities Can Foster a Sense of Belonging and Place Attachment

According to the study, migration can lead to feelings of alienation and disconnection. Migrants who move to Australia may encounter various challenges including language barriers, economic and social hardships, and feelings of isolation.

Building connections to natural landscapes in the new host country can help to mitigate some of these challenges. It can help migrants feel a sense of place attachment to landscapes, particularly when people are involved in improving and managing these landscapes.

This ‘environmental placemaking’ occurs when migrants take part in conservation volunteering activities like weeding or planting trees in parks or conservation areas.

In addition to placemaking and creating a sense of attachment to local landscapes, these activities also provide an opportunity for migrants to build social connections with local people.

The study found that facilitated, cross-cultural participation in the management of local natural landscapes can improve migration experiences. Through this lens, conservation sites can therefore function as therapeutic landscapes.

Conservation Areas as Therapeutic Landscapes That Foster Wellbeing

A therapeutic landscape is a space that fosters positive relationships between the place, health and wellbeing, and human subjective experiences.

By increasing peoples’ connections with nature, their wellbeing, sense of purpose, and happiness can increase.

Conservation activities like weeding, planting native plants, and restoring and monitoring wildlife habitats can improve physical and mental health, build social connections, and develop one’s place identity.

👉 Conservation Volunteers Australia has developed the Nature Blocks initiative in partnership with the Bupa Foundation which aims to enable action for nature while improving wellbeing. Creating a Nature Block in your backyard or balcony is an opportunity to reconnect with nature, restore Australian native species, and build back biodiversity. By downloading the CVA Community App you can join a movement and community of nature conservationists across Australia and find resources to help you create your Nature Block.

An Inclusive Placemaking Approach to Conservation

CVA is an active proponent of inclusive conservation and a placemaking approach to conservation. 

We aim to make conservation volunteering accessible to everyone and to create a positive experience for all our volunteers.

Anyone can sign up to take part in our conservation projects and events, anywhere across Australia. Our CVA Community App enables people across Australia to build back nature in their homes and communities through the creation of Nature Blocks, and to engage with other community members via the app.

We were therefore very keen to support research into environmental placemaking designed to improve the experience of all our volunteers.

Community conservation initiatives, like volunteering activities organised by Conservation Volunteers Australia, can provide an opportunity for inclusive placemaking and ecosystem restoration. This extends to migrants, refugees and people of diverse cultures and languages who are staying in Australia for any length of time.

According to this study, structured conservation volunteering initiatives can have multiple benefits for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) adult migrants. Activities like restoring wetlands through weeding and tree planting, for example, can help migrants foster a sense of connection to local landscapes while also providing an opportunity to meet others and reduce possible feelings of isolation.

This placemaking approach to conservation has been found to have positive impacts on indirect health and wellbeing, as well as cultivating happiness and self-esteem.

Studies have also shown how when people have more connection with nature, their wellbeing and sense of happiness can increase. And when environmental and social factors are combined, together they can impact wellbeing and health.

CVA offers everyone the chance to make new connections and feel a sense of community

When people talk about activities like conservation volunteering, those activities are often viewed only in terms of their impacts on the natural environment. The impacts of conservation volunteering on volunteers’ social and emotional lives may therefore be ignored or overlooked as a positive outcome.

We’re grateful to the study leaders for undertaking this important research, because to date there has been little focus on the impacts of conservation volunteering on culturally diverse people. And, as a culturally diverse nation, the findings of this research are highly relevant to all Australians.

It’s exciting to know that there’s growing recognition of conservation areas being therapeutic landscapes that provide positive impacts on people’s wellbeing, health, happiness, sense of belonging, and sense of purpose – particularly culturally diverse people and migrants.

This recognition of the wellness benefits of taking action for nature is inspiration for our Nature Blocks initiative, in partnership with the Bupa Foundation.

Studies are showing how conservation volunteering can improve physical and mental health, forge new social connections, and give people a sense of place and community.

At Conservation Volunteers Australia, we are proud to provide opportunities for everyone to make new connections, learn new skills, find place attachment, and join a community of like-minded conservationists.

We look forward to welcoming you to one of our upcoming conservation activities, and for you to join our digital conservation community by downloading the CVA Community App.