For the Love of the Lakes

Managing the multiple values of Canberra’s urban waterways


Southwell Scout Venturers

Protecting our natural environment through citizen science

For years, the Southwell Scout Group Venturers have been connecting with the outdoors, learning from nature and taking positive steps to care for ACT’s parks and reserves. Environmental stewardship is an essential part of the Scout Promise and Law, and youth leaders from the Southwell Venturers have a long history of improving biodiversity in the ACT through activities such as weed removal and tree planting.

In 2016, Southwell Venturer leader Vance Lawrence observed a desire amongst the youth leaders to undertake fieldwork where they could develop practical skills and learn about the more advanced aspects of ecological monitoring.

Scouts using water quality monitoring equipment to test water samples.
Source: Nicolas Gardiner

In response, the Southwell Venturers partnered with the Southern ACT Waterwatch group to undertake environmental monitoring of various waterways in Namadgi National Park. Since then, the Southwell Venturers have led numerous four wheel drive and bushwalking expeditions into Namadgi, using water quality monitoring kits provided by Waterwatchto collect chemical and physical measurements. They also collect complementary data on aquatic macroinvertebrates and riverbank vegetation, both of which provide insight into the health of our catchment.

Citizen scientists

Data collected by the group goes into the Waterwatch database. This directly informs the annual Catchment Health Indicator Program (CHIP) report, which land managers and government use to develop plans and programs for environmental management. Information collected by the Southwell Venturers has also served as evidence in successful grant applications for environmental rehabilitation projects. For example, the Southwell Venturers saw signs of feral pig presence in Namadgi during one of their expeditions. They reported their observations to the ACT Government’s National Parks and Conservation Service, which used this data to help secure funding for the feral deer and pig control programin 2021. Environmental volunteers’ timely reporting of invasive species infestations enables land managers to eradicate these species before they become more widespread. This highlights the importance of citizen science data and how it is being incorporated into conservation and land management strategies.

Key’s Matchstick Grasshopper. Source: Hannah Zurcher

The Southwell Venturers also record ad hoc observations and photos to upload to volunteer-run online species identification platforms such as Canberra Nature Map, FrogID and the Atlas of Living Australia. During a Waterwatch expedition in November 2022, they captured a rare image of the nationally threatened species keyacris scurra — Key’s Matchstick Grasshopper. The sighting, which is only the second on record in the ACT, was verified by expert monitors on Canberra Nature Map. The Southwell Venturers are considering options for a new project to observe the plant life the grasshopper is eating and living in, as well as doing population number studies.

Practical skills and life-long learning

For many youth scout members, exposure to fieldwork has instilled a life-long interest in learning about the environment. For example, former Venturer Simon recently gained a Certificate III in Conservation and Ecosystem Management at the Canberra Institute of Technology. Another Venturer, Dylan, is keen to merge his interests of IT and the environment by possibly pursuing a career in developing online wildlife mapping software. 

Waterwatch expeditions are also an opportunity for Venturers to develop practical skills in leadership, navigation, four wheel drive operation and data collection. “The adult leaders take a back seat role. We organise logistics and transportation, but it is really the youth Venturers who lead the expeditions and teach their peers about water monitoring,” says Vance.

Wellbeing and positive environmental action

It’s well documented that connection to a healthy and resilient natural environment is an essential aspect of wellbeing, particularly for those living in urban areas. For the youth Venturers and adult leaders who spend most of their time indoors at school or work, environmental volunteering presents a chance to get outside and foster a deeper connection with nature. One of the adult leaders spoke about how they find a sense of balance and purpose through fieldwork: “I spend five days a week in an office looking at a computer screen… this is my spirituality.”

Scout group at Gudgenby River sampling site. Source: James Lehane

Getting involved in meaningful activities like environmental monitoring has also improved the scouts’ feelings about drought, fire and climate change. The Southwell Venturers observed the devastating impacts of the 2020 Orroral Valley fire on ecological communities in Namadgi. Collecting data to help with the bushfire recovery effort has eased the scouts’ feelings of helplessness after the catastrophic bushfire season.

Scouting provides opportunities to experience and connect with the environment, develop skills, and build a sense of community. We are extremely lucky in the ACT to have many volunteers and organisations such as the Southwell Venturers who are working to preserve and protect our natural spaces.

Learn more about the Southwell Scout Group on the Scouts ACT website.


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