My time at BirdLife Cyprus was truly eye-opening, as well as very enjoyable. Spending time volunteering here really allowed me to dive into nature and learn about the natural world. Working in the field, as well as in the office, was interesting and rewarding, and I feel it gave me the full immersive experience of working for nature. Our early field visits were always filled with new experiences and with learning about our environment. Finding out about different bird species, their behaviors, the problems leading to their decline and being able to take part in a conservation effort was a true learning experience.
After just a few visits, filled with observation, asking questions, and sorting video files from the nest boxes placed around Cyprus, I found I was knowledgeable enough and was inspired to write an article on the Barn Owl and Kestrel Nest Box Series. The nest boxes set up for barn owls actually invited many different bird species, including kestrels and scops owls, to settle there, bringing along their own benefits to the area. Before long, I realized that my preconception of environmental work was inaccurate.
One may think from observing conservation NGOs that they strictly do work concerning nature; and while this is true, there are many sides to conservation efforts that go unseen. Working with the environment is as much working with people as it is with nature. Communication, raising awareness, and considering those whose lives may be affected by conservation work are all aspects of these efforts.
In the Barn Owl Project, I saw firsthand the impacts on those involved. The farmers we spoke with were thrilled to have nest boxes installed on their property; feeling responsible for an animal, as well as for the environment, gives an unrivaled sense of contentment and fulfillment. However, giving up rodenticide use is difficult, as it may take up to a couple of years for nest boxes to become occupied by Barn Owls. However, waiting brings huge benefits, as Barn Owls consume up to 1000 rodents per year. The natural control done by the owls does not, crucially, have all the negative environmental side-effects of the chemical solution. Raising awareness and communication with the farmers is thus vital for the project to have maximum impact.
Helping with fieldwork at the Larnaka Salt Lakes for the LIFE IP Physis project was to me a perfect illustration of how fragile the environment is. The beauty of the natural world was contrasted starkly with its tragic treatment, with heaps of trash by the wetland, and hunting areas very close by. Birdwatching here, however, was wonderful, and with help from the team, I learned about various bird species found here and their behaviors throughout the year. More broadly, I believe it was important as it taught me meticulousness and sharpened my observation skills, which I can now carry into other aspects of my life.
Taking part in so many conservation efforts at BirdLife Cyprus was a privilege, and made one thing clear: the road to improvement entails a lot of education, action, and investments (of time and funding), yet one small step, one volunteer, can help create a better future for all. As Albert Einstein once said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
So, as a word of encouragement to future volunteers: there is no better way to become immersed in nature, learn about the natural world, and help make a change than to volunteer at conservation NGOs such as BirdLife Cyprus.