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People helping TERN: our fantastic volunteers

People helping TERN: our fantastic volunteers

Join us in celebrating National Volunteer Week with a special thank you to all our field and lab volunteers who have already contributed over 2,000 hours in 2018. Meet some of them and find out how you too can help deliver our environmental research infrastructure and gain indispensable research skills and experience.

From the start, TERN realised that to sustain its decades-long research presence at so many sites around the nation (now over 600), we needed to re-think the traditional labour approaches. Part of the solution lies with volunteers.

This year alone, our volunteers have already contributed more than 2,000 hours to field and laboratory work to TERN. Their assistance is invaluable, and we wouldn’t be able to deliver our national research infrastructure, open data, and sample collections without them.

Meet some of our volunteers


Sue and Peter Milnes (left) volunteered with TERN (for the 5th time!) and assisted the establishment of new ecosystem surveillance plots Australia’s alpine region. They also collected data and samples to supplement a seven-decade-long dataset from the region.  Ashlea Doolette (right) of the University of Adelaide volunteered on the same trip and has since gone on to use TERN data and samples to develop novel approaches that could save our agricultural industries millions of dollars every year.


Tessa Leitch from NZ's Otago University (left) and Maximilian Mcquillan from the University of Adelaide (right) joined the TERN Ecosystem Surveillance team on their recent trip to NSW in which they added 27 new plots to TERN’s national network of over 600 ecosystem surveillance sites. The new sites in New South Wales and South Australia represent the first nationally-consistent monitoring in an important climatic region and provide vital information to state government and not-for-profit conservation programs.


Nikki Francis of Flinders University (left) was also part of the recent NSW sampling trip and will be volunteering again later this month as part of TERN’s trip to Queensland’s Cape York to work with the Queensland Government’s Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing in establishing more permanent ecosystem surveillance sites.  Back in the lab, Sue Willmott (right) volunteers her time, skills and attention to detail to sort and catalogue all the soil and vegetation samples collected by the field team.


High school students Ruby Pippen (left) and Indio Myles (right) volunteered at TERN’s Calperum Mallee SuperSite in 2017 as part of the EarthWatch Institute’s Student Challenge program. Ruby and her classmates collected data on the physical and biological components of the Black Box floodplain community along the Murray River, including by taking tree measurements and checking pitfall traps for fauna, to help scientists build a complete picture of ecosystem functioning and understand the causes and effects of environmental change (images courtesy of Yue Chin Chew).

All of the rehabilitation and management programs at South Australia’s Calperum Mallee SuperSite rely on the willingness of community members to volunteer their time and effort in support. Over the past decade, volunteers have consistently donated around 10,000 hours a year to looking after Calperum and neighbouring Taylorville Stations. This includes a paddock adoption scheme where groups of community volunteers take responsibility for managing sections of the property by performing tasks such as feral animal control and infrastructure maintenance.


EarthWatch participants in front of the TERN OzFlux tower that forms part of TERN's Ecosystem Processes  monitoring infrastructure at the Calperum Mallee SuperSite (photo courtesy Cassandra Nichols)

Volunteer programs utilise TERN’s open-access research sites

Since 2014, the EarthWatch Institute has been working with TERN and our site infrastructure partners to offer volunteering opportunities at the 12 TERN Ecosystem Processes SuperSites around Australia.

EarthWatch programs at TERN SuperSite allow volunteers to experience the sites’ unique environments and contribute to real-world scientific research. In one such example, 12 National Australia Bank employees—with support and expert guidance from TERN, the Earthwatch Institute and the Australian Landscape Trust—spent a week at the Calperum Mallee SuperSite taking part in an intensive monitoring and information exchange program.

EarthWatch and TERN have together created a ClimateWatch trail TERN’s Robson Creek Rainforest SuperSite in far north Queensland. The walking trail enables citizen scientist volunteers to contribute to phenonolgical and biodiversity datasets using dedicated apps developed for each location.


Volunteer with TERN

If you'd like to volunteer with TERN and work alongside our scientists collecting valuable ecosystem surveillance data and samples we'd love to hear from you.

TERN Volunteer Field Assistants help in all aspects of TERN’s field surveys, preparing materials and equipment, assisting with establishing field plots, collecting plant and soil samples, undertaking various vegetation measures using a range of well-established methodologies (as detailed in the AusPlots Rangelands Protocols Manual), sorting and maintaining samples in the field, as well as contributing to the overall camping experience. Field surveys range from day trips, short trips with overnight camping, or extended trips to remote locations, camping for up to 16 days.

TERN volunteers gain valuable experience in field methods and techniques and are exposed to the planning and coordination of field surveys, their health and safety requirements, and remote communications management.  Importantly, they get the unique opportunity to travel to some of Australia’s most remote ecosystems and learn about the characteristics and plants that make them so unique and beautiful.

We look forward to hearing from you!


Michael Starkey (left) and Luke Ragless (right) volunteered with us from 2017 are now part of the TERN Ecosystem Surveillance team





Published in TERN newsletter June 2018