Conservation Kayaking and Community Partnerships


When the PaddleNSW Environment Committee came together in 2020, I said I would prepare an article on Conservation Kayaking or Adventure Conservation and partnering with Government agencies or Landcare groups to help run activities or programs that improve catchment health. However, COVID-19 and the risk of it spreading amongst volunteers, has caused community program coordinators to generally restrict activities to existing volunteers and so it has been difficult to form new partnerships during 2020 and 2021. However, you can just undertake conservation kayaking activities within your club or paddling group.

In the programs I have been involved with we frequently use the following statement to explain how we can be of assistance:

Paddlers can often access areas that are difficult to access from the land by paid or volunteer bushcare people, but these areas can be easily to access from the water. We also come with the skills, experience and equipment to manage risks associated with on-water activities and particularly working near moving/white water.

Paddlers can often do tasks along rivers that we paddle because we want to go there anyway and so there are low costs to us doing the task.

I also refer to the following two statements:

– The first by Geoff Luscumbe, who was the Blue Mountains National Parks and Wildlife Service Regional Manager. In talking about the Adventure Conservation programs he said:

“Adventure Conservation is fun, challenging and takes place in wild places. It delivers important conservation outcomes that could not be done by conventional paid staff because it is too expensive or logistically impossible. Volunteers can find activities that suit a broad range of ages, fitness levels, conservation skills and wilderness experience. But they all have one thing in common they can be done by people who care about wild places and want to protect them for future generations”

In 2012 in a booklet about Adventure Conservation the Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Management Authority said:

“Outdoor Adventure enthusiasts (this includes paddlers) can provide valuable input into managing our natural environment whilst having fun. Trained volunteers, who enjoy adventure activities, can provide great value to conservation in remote areas and areas of high conservation value by recording what they see, removing isolated small infestations of weeds or marine debris, and doing the essential follow up monitoring of previous restoration programs, as they would normally go through these areas anyway. By assisting in managing our natural resources you can build a relationship with the National Parks and Crown land managers which can lead to improved access to these areas. Participating in these activities with local landowners and managers can, in some programs, mean you have a local guide to update you on local issues and stories about the land. Similarly, being part of the Landcare family and helping other Landcare groups across the country, lets us get out of the city and our work environment and help landowners care for their country with the added bonus of getting to paddle in areas not normally accessible to the general public. Volunteers will also build up their bush regeneration skills, which can then be adapted to their own local situation, providing additional value to the programs by not having to be trained.”

Here are some suggestions on who
you can reach out to form a partnership with on your local waterways:

Local Government: Many councils with urban populations and bushland to manage, run Bushcare programs with a “Bushcare Coordinator” position to run the program they often have a email address. If your interest is in collecting litter that has entered waterways or is along the banks along with dumped rubbish if the bushcare coordinator does not manage that program the council may have a sustainability office running litter programs although I am not sure if they have a specific email address. But they generally promote their programs around Clean Up Australia Day. But for both programs you can generally send an email to and asking to make contact with Bushcare coordinator or sustainability officer about their programs.

  • National Parks and Wildlife Service.
    NPWS has a volunteers portal called VIP or Better Impact where you can register to search and register for their various program that might suit you or your club. Due to cutbacks to funding for National Parks over recent years and specifically the staffing levels for Ranger positions, it is pretty hard to get in contact with the ranger to offer assistance for a new program, but participating in an existing program through the VIP website can help you make contact. There are also a couple of National Parks volunteer programs with coordinators in the Lane Cove National Park and Central Coast Area Office. Please contact me at the email address below if you would like their contact details.  There are also ‘Friends of’ groups in some of the National Parks that can be contacted via Landcare. Three groups come to mind:
  • Another option, and I cannot guarantee result, is to contact me at the email address below, with details of what you would like to do and I might be able to help with contacting the relevant ranger and also mentoring you though running a conservation kayaking project.
  • River Keeper or Catchment Coordinators with cross-council programs. There are two specific programs in Greater Sydney with co-ordinators who can assist you:
  • Catchment Management Authorities
    In Australian states, except NSW, there are Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs). The CMA’s co-ordinate catchment scale, catchment health programs with Catchment Action Plans to prioritise investment, but unfortunately in NSW these were disbanded in 2014 and so most programs in NSW are now random, site specific with little or no coordination across the catchment.
  • Landcare Groups
    Connect with them via the NSW Landcare gate way On this web site you can look for Landcare groups or networks in 13 Region across NSW via the “Landcare Near You” page, or you can contact one of the 56 local landcare coordinators or 10 regional landcare coordinators, who can recommend landcare groups that could work with the paddling group / program. Most of the regions also have their own web sites like the Greater Sydney Landcare Network

There are some specific programs that you might like to consider:

  • Friends of the Mitta who do weed control and planting along the Mitta Mitta River in Victoria. They also do activities to raise public awareness and fundraise to support their programs to protect the river, improve camp sites and improve catchment health.
  • Clean4shore Whilst this is program that used barges to take volunteers to locations in the Hawkesbury Estuary, Brisbane waters, Hunter River Estuary and other lakes and estuaries along the central coast of NSW. The Coordinator Jono Graeme Johnston might be able to arrange to collect bags of litter or piles of rubbish you have collected on paddles to locations in these estuaries.
  • Friends of the Colo (FOC) and the Willow Warriors program  who use the groups kayaks, inflatables or packrafts to paddle rivers, wetlands, lagoons or estuaries to do weed control. Friends of the Colo’s main focus is on weed control in remote areas of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area and adjoining National Parks and some private land. Most of these activities are remote area multiday bushwalks. But FOC also has a program called Willow Warriors where volunteers paddle rivers lakes and lagoons to map willow infestations by taxa and to look for and treat invasive willows growing into view (mainly willows that spread by windblown seed i.e., black willows and Grey sallow) but we also control crack willows in areas managed for their conservation values and also upstream of these areas. We have done mapping and treatment activities along sections of the Colo, Grose, MacDonald, Nepean, Hawkesbury, Wollondilly, Wingecarribee, Shoalhaven, upper Murrumbidgee, Goobarragandra, Goodradigbee, Upper Murray, Snowy, Eucumbene, Tuross, Deua and Clyde Rivers and also in floodplain wetlands in the Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment. The group has been involved in projects to control other weeds on the Sydney Harbour Island, Garigal National Park Middle Harbour, Ku-ring-gai National Park Pittwater, other National Park sites in the Hawkesbury Estuary and at Lake Parramatta Reserve. We have also been involved with the Yellomundee Aboriginal Bushcare groups at Shaws Creek Aboriginal Place, on the Nepean River doing weed control and learning about firesticks and join in on other cultural activities.

An example of existing programs run by Canoe Clubs:

River Canoe Club of NSW has the “Cooks River Mullets” group that does litter and marine debris collection from the water along the Cooks River in Greater Sydney. They have also been running an annual Cooks River Clean up with Cooks River Valley Association, the Cooks River Mud Crabs (the local landcare group) and Ocean Crusaders and get the local residence out in the club boats to collect litter and raise awareness of the issues. They also run community paddles with Wolli Creek Preservation Society to help raise public awareness about the health of the natural areas in the LGA. Club members have also participated in some of the Willow Warriors programs controlling willows along the Wingecarribee, Wollondilly and Colo Rivers. They also updated the mapping of weeds and pest animal species along the Snowy River through the Byadbo Wilderness in 2014

An example of a Program run by a service provider:

Sydney by Kayaks who run paddles for clients in a couple of location around Sydney Harbour. One of the activities they promote are Clean up paddles where participants carry buckets to collect litter on their paddle.

Documents and systems you might like to have in place before you contact some of the government agencies:

If you want to set up your own program going to these landowner agencies with a job safety assessment, insurance arrangements and evidence of prior experience in these types of programs and managing the risk to volunteers on the water. This documentation will help you get a foot in the door as the government agencies get heaps of requests for access to the land they manage and this will show you are serious about contributing to the management of the land they manage. If you do not have any prior experience in managing a littler collection, weed identification and control or planting programs then you can at least show how you can manage the on-water risks and look to partner with them to develop the other skills.

In most cases your club’s insurance should cover the activity on the water. The only question is will it cover the weed control and other activities on land. But the land manager might also be prepared cover the activities on the land under their insurance.

Developing your safe working practices or job safety analysis can be done in partnership with the community group or agency. But we have also mentored several groups to help them set up their own programs including using our job safety documentation as a template for their project specific job safety. Again, contacting me on the email address below we can share this resource.

Types of activities:

  • Litter collections from the water or waters edge and locations difficult to access from the land/bank.
  • Taking experienced bushcare volunteers or agency staff along a river to record river health issues. This allows groups or agency staff to plan catchment scale programs as it may taken the several days to arrange and then inspect the river from various landowners and land managers. By paddling the river and looking back from the water, you can do this without having to arrange access
  • Taking stakeholders along a river or around a lagoon or wetland to see the issues. Stakeholders include agency staff, politicians and community group members. Providing, the opportunity to take decision makers along a section of river means they can see issues along a section of river instead of a few sites accessible by road.
  • Taking groups of volunteers to see their sites and the area along the river or lake near their sites. Volunteers can look out across the water from their site and so giving them the opportunity to look back on the site if often very rewarding to them and also lets them see issues they have not seen from the land and also along the water’s edge upstream and downstream from their site.
  • Follow up monitoring of a previous weed control or planting programs to look for and treat weeds growing into view. Groups and land managers can get funding for weed control work particularly for Weeds of National significance but find it had to do follow up monitoring and weeding. So, volunteer paddlers who can easily access these river restoration sites from the water can offer an invaluable resource to do these tasks and protect the previous investment
  • Treating weeds on rivers where there is moving water and your whitewater skills and experience helps you manage the risks.
  • Joining in on existing activities that can be accessed from a waterway and included in your own paddle.

Source2Sea Landcare Journeys

I have been involved in a few Landcare Source to Sea Journeys with the CMA staff in Sydney to take volunteers and stakeholders on a paddle to look at programs along a river from its source to the sea:

The Hawkesbury Nepean from Warragamba to Barrenjoey Headland, Georges River, Parramatta River and Lane cove river. On the way we stopped to talk to Landcare Groups, bushcare Groups, private landowners or catchment health officers about the programs they are doing to protect and improve catchment health. ABC Landline filmed one of the Hawkesbury Nepean Landcare Source to Sea Journey –

Parramatta River Catchment Group, Greater Sydney Landcare and the Hawkesbury Nepean CMA filmed the Parramatta River Landcare Source to Sea Journey –

– Jeff Cottrell


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