Discover the world around you with Nature Stewards
Nature Stewards is a 6 to 10 week program that connects curious people with their local and wider habitats. It’s a great way to gain knowledge, learn practical skills and meet like-minded others in the local community. You will discover all sorts of ways to help nature at home and through local volunteering.
Run by conservation experts and hosted by local councils, the program covers:
Rocks, soil, fungi, plants, and animals
Climate change and seasons
Ways to care for Country and manage private property
Being a citizen scientist, conservation volunteer, advocate for nature, or a nature guide
How and where you can volunteer in your area
In 2023, the Nature Stewards program ran on the Mornington Peninsula, in Melbourne, Merri-bek and Moonee Valley, Strathbogie, Horsham, Whittlesea, Ballarat, and Geelong.
Check out below for our upcoming 2024 autumn programs!
Please note: Due to COVID-19, parts/all of the program may be delivered online at short notice. In following current government directions, participants and staff of 2024 programs will need to be fully COVID vaccinated.
A vibrant community throughout Victoria of well-informed and trained citizens, actively engaged in conserving, observing and interpreting nature.
The Nature Stewards program promotes environmental literacy and stewardship of nature through discovery, action, and ongoing learning. The program directly supports participants in training and volunteering, thereby generating benefits for the wider community and the environment.
About the Program
The Nature Stewards program was initiated in Victoria by the McGregor family, with inspiration and advice from the well-established Master Naturalist programs in the USA. The concept was further developed with collaborators across many Victorian organisations from government, the not-for-profit sector, and other interested individuals.
The Victorian National Parks Association, together with local council hosts provide funding and support for the program. Outdoors Victoria and The Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action were instrumental in establishing the Nature Stewards program
– 34 – 46 hrs hours of total training
– Six to ten weekly classes (3 hours)
– Four to six field sessions (4 hrs)
– Certificate of completion
– Council area residents given preference
– Over the age of 18
– Best suited to those with little/no formal environmental education
– Willing to try, or continue environmental volunteering
– Available for Saturday field trips (four sessions)
Each program consists of six to 10 weekly class sessions and four to six field sessions, providing a total of 34-46 hours of basic training.
Participants learn together about the Victorian and local environment, through topics spanning geology, soils, climate, fungi, plants, animals, conservation land management, volunteering and citizen science, and environmental interpretation, given from western and local Aboriginal community perspectives.
The class sessions have an expert facilitator, with specialist guest presenters and local volunteering group showcases.
Welcome on Country & Nature Stewards in context This session begins with a welcome to Country by an Elder from the local Traditional Owner group. This session then explores where the program comes from, what it is to be a nature steward, the benefits of being in nature, and much more!*
First Nations culture and place This session further explores welcome to Country, Native Title, local Indigenous cultures, place, and languages across Victoria. It then zooms around some of the Indigenous Protected Areas around Victoria, and finishes with the importance of caring for Country and managing Country together.
Looking after nature or Environmental interpretation This session may vary depending on where you are doing the program. One focus is an introduction to vegetation and Victoria-wide classification, private property management, and state-wide community groups looking after nature. The other option looks at how we communicate about nature and engage the community via environmental interpretation.
The big picture session – ecosystems
Earth systems, biodiversity, food webs, and ecology to name a few fundamental concepts. This session then sprints around Victoria as we delve into bioregions and key vegetation communities in your local area.
Geology and soils
What’s beneath our feet? How do big Earth processes continue to shape our landscape? What is soil and why are soils so important? How do rocks and soils influence fungi, flora, fauna, and our community?
Time to focus on the fungi and plants of Victoria and your local area. Finding it, naming it, perhaps even unearthing a lifelong passion?
The furry and not-so-furry animals around us, finding them, describing them, and supporting them. Perhaps time to discover a lifelong wildlife passion too?
Water and water life
Water – a vital part of our lives and ecosystems. Local catchments, river systems, dams, water life are some of the streams of this session, together with water in the urban environment.
Seasons, climate change, and fire ecology
This session looks at weather, climate, nature observations, climate change, and fire. What are some potential impacts of climate change and what can we do to ‘climate ready’ our natural spaces? The session then moves to fire – ecology, Indigenous cultural burning and other burning practices and their roles in the landscape. How do we manage fire to support our natural systems and community’s safety? Which organisations manage fire during a crisis? How do we help our communities and environment recover?
Program reflections and next steps
This session takes the time to reflect on the program and dive into next steps that you can take at home and/or locally to support nature. This could range from starting a wildlife garden, taking part in citizen science, checking out a local environmental volunteer group, to starting a TAFE course – so many options out there!
*The session content is used to guide in-class learning, guest presentations, and activities. Full coverage of the content is found in the curriculum document for participants to read at their own leisure.
Danielle has been working in environmental science for 20 years starting her career as a public servant advising policy makers in Canberra, then joining an NGO in Broome, coordinating a citizen science project.
Danielle discovered the importance of nature connection while travelling around Australia, realising that it’s the crucial first step for people to want to care for the environment. This started Danielle’s journey as a passionate advocate and facilitator for nature play, outdoor activities and environmental education. The Nature Stewards program is a perfect culmination of all of the above.
Jordan Crook Melbourne class facilitator
Jordan has a decade’s worth of experience in conservation and land management and arboriculture industries working across all land tenures including national parks, bushland reserves and private property and is passionate about thoughtful and meaningful management of natural areas for conservation of our precious and irreplaceable plants, animals and ecosystems.
Jordan is formally qualified in Conservation and Land Management and Arboriculture. Jordan is also a Nature Campaigner at the Victorian National Parks Association.
Jack Dewhurst Melbourne & Knox class facilitator
Jack is a motivated and experienced nature communicator with a passion for Australia’s unique natural environment. He has a diversity of experiences in the environmental field, including working for government, universities, NGO’s and private companies.
He is particularly interested in developing effective science communication, as well as citizen science programs having worked closely alongside Birdlife Australia to implement their beach nesting bird program on the Mornington Peninsula. He is very excited to be involved in the Nature Stewards program to share his experiences and to learn from a like-minded community.
Julie White Ballarat class Facilitator
Julie is the co-founder of Environmental Evolution – an environmental consultancy that works with local government, businesses and international corporations to empower them to become sustainable in all of their operations. With over 20 years experience as a facilitator, project manager and strategic planner she has had the joy of supporting her clients achieve fantastic outcomes for the environment.
Before Julie was a consultant she taught sustainability and science to students ranging from prep through to Year 12. She worked with over 60 schools to help them become certified with ResourceSmart and designed innovative and creative programs while she taught at Earth Ed Specialist Science Centre. Prior to that, her humble beginnings begun as extension officer for the state government in the land management area – dealing with all things related to salinity – be it dryland, irrigation or urban salinity.
Nicole Henry Melbourne, Geelong, NW Hub class facilitator
Growing up in regional and coastal Victoria ignited an interest in the natural environment for Nicole. Encouraged by her biology teaching father, Nicole pursued her passion in botany and zoology and has worked as a Science educator in both government and independent school sectors for many years, developing expertise in senior biology.
Nicole believes that no matter what our past experiences, we can all benefit from a greater understanding of our environment. Her passion for the natural environment has continued with her own children studying environmental science and population geography and science at a tertiary level.
Milo Pace Whittlesea class facilitator
Milo is an environmental scientist with experience working in the public sector and environmental advocacy, with over two years experience working in STEM education. Milo studied plant science and earth science at Monash University, and they have a particular interest in native ecology, plants and fungi.
Milo is also working for the Australian Conservation Foundation, and a regular Landcare volunteer. They are passionate about the conservation and rehabilitation of Australian ecosystems, and building the resilience of communities in the face of climate change.
George Paras Merri-bek and Moonee Valley class facilitator
Growing up as a migrant kid in Melbourne’s polluted industrial western suburbs, George fell in love with Victoria’s natural places, with every family picnic and school excursion. Studying agricultural science, George got involved in many volunteer conservation and naturalist groups. His involvement in native freshwater fish conservation efforts/groups led him to a major in fish ecology and environmental science in his undergraduate degree. George has made a long career as an environmental educator and ranger, with nearly four decades at La Trobe University’s Wildlife Sanctuary and Reserves.
George is driven by practical things we can do to support local biodiversity and wildlife, through indigenous gardening choices, right up to taking community revegetation and bushland management action, in our neighbourhood public land and reserves. As an avid wildlife watcher, George is passionate about re-growing habitat for our local animals, through understanding their basic ecological needs, with an emphasis on our local urban environment.
Mia Stephens Yarra Ranges class facilitator
Mia has always been immersed in the minute particulars. She is enchanted by ‘belly plants’—those which are so small you have to be on your belly to really see and appreciate—and the whole of nature is her love.
Mia currently works as the gardener at Melbourne Rudolf Steiner School in Warranwood and has worked in habitat management for over 20 years.
Jeff White Whittlesea, Yarra Ranges class facilitator
Jeff was born in Boston Massachusetts and grew up exploring the coastlines, lakes, rivers, meadows and forests of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. As a student he studied ecology, geography and natural history and developed a passion for education, conservation and advocating for wild places and wild creatures.
Since coming to Melbourne he has earned a Master’s degree in Environment & Sustainability from Monash University. He has since worked in environmental education, community development, permaculture gardening and most recently, community mental health. Currently he is studying ecological psychology and exploring the myriad benefits of nature connection and forest therapy with clients.
Anton Vigenser Mornington Peninsula Class Facilitator
Growing up on the Mornington Peninsula, the great outdoors was in Anton’s DNA from the start. After a career as a Lifeguard, Anton gained a role at Lifesaving Victoria as an education facilitator, traveling rural inland towns teaching beach and water safety to Primary School classrooms.
Upon completion of a Batchelor of Environmental Science, Anton joined the Bushland Restoration industry, combining a passion for the outdoors with a career that is rewarding and satisfying. Over a decade in, Anton has worked on countless Bushland reserves and facilitated many Friends Groups along the way. Joining the Nature Stewards team, Anton will again combine a passion for the outdoors, with the enthusiasm to pass on his deep knowledge of the environment to others.
Rachel Farran Horsham Class Facilitator
A childhood immersed in the beautiful Red-Gum country of the West Wimmera inspired a lifelong love of nature for Rachel. Her career as an educator began whilst studying Agricultural Science at Melbourne University with a part-time role at Earth Encounters leading nature education programs. This role led to working in the education programs of Melbourne Water, Wild Action and the Amphibian Research Centre, and to a degree in primary and secondary teaching.
Whilst teaching Rachel has never strayed far from her passion in environmental education, combining this with the role of Local Landcare Facilitator in the West Wimmera. Rachel is passionate about environmental conservation in rural communities and is excited to introduce the Nature Stewards program to Horsham and surrounding communities.
Ann McGregor Program Founder, President Merri Creek Management Committee
I have enjoyed watching birds since I was a youngster in the Dandenong Ranges, and this led to an interest in nature conservation.As an environmental planner I have worked at the University of Melbourne, in the Victorian Public Service and as a consultant. I have volunteered with environmental groups for over 40 years, particularly focused on the Merri Creek.
Through volunteering I have learnt a lot, made many friends, and had the pleasure of seeing bushland protected, re-established and appreciated. After hearing about the US Master Naturalist programs, I was inspired (with strong support from my family) to introduce the model in Victoria as a means of connecting people more deeply with nature and encouraging them to enjoy the many benefits of environmental volunteering.
Dr Bruce McGregor Founder of the Nature Stewards Program, Victorian National Parks Association Council Member
Growing up in rural Western Victoria, near the Grampians/Gariwerd instilled a passion for the outdoors and nature. I loved geography, bush walking and playing Aussie Rules Football. My father introduced me to bird watching and growing native plants. I am an active research scientist with training in biology, land management, adult education and organisation leadership.
For many years I have volunteered with environmental groups in environmental protection and restoration, waterway management, and outdoor recreation. This led to a Victorian Environmental Friends Network Best Friend Award in 2015. I currently volunteer with the Victorian National Parks Association, Trust for Nature and BirdLife Australia.
Mr Max Campbell President, Field Naturalists Club of Victoria
President of the Field Naturalist Club of Victoria for four years, Max is a biologist and has been an active field naturalist for over 50 years with a special interest in invertebrates and biodiversity.
Max is strongly committed to the goals of the Nature Stewards program.
Dr Lawrie Conole Coordinator City Environment & Sustainability, the City of Melton
I’ve been a bird nerd since the early years of high school in the 1970s. From then to now I’ve been involved in volunteer activities with organisations like BirdLife Australia, and somewhere along the way I finished a PhD on bird ecology. I’m best known for knowledge of birds, but I’m also into bats and frogs, and know a bit about some native plants as well.
At Melton it’s my responsibility to see that our natural areas are being looked after, and that residents have the chance to enjoy wildlife and native plants in their gardens and neighbourhoods, and in some of our conservation reserves.
Lee Harrison City of Melbourne, Ecologist
Lee is passionate about learning and fascinated by ideas.
She has worked in the field of urban ecology for over a decade and thinks that nature stewards are needed now more than ever to sustain biodiverse and liveable cities on our urbanising planet.
Andrew Knight CEO, Outdoors Victoria
Andrew’s children are key motivators for his drive to have more Victorians learn, connect with others in their community and then interact to help the environment.
His children’s passion for caring for the environment by reducing consumption of energy, plastics, and high carbon footprint foods has inspired Andrew to explore with others that are specialist in the environmental space, as to what we can do to assist the Victorian community right now.
Dr Madelaine Willcock Nature Stewards Program Coordinator, Victorian National Parks Association
I can frequently be found in my preferred natural habitat – the great outdoors – camping, relaxing, and probably checking out any local volcanoes. I have been fortunate to have had many wonderful childhood family and scouting adventures in nature that ignited a great respect, love, and spiritual connection with the natural environment.
I believe our personal connection with and stewardship of the environment is fundamental to our personal, societal, and environmental health and thus supporting others to find, build and maintain their connection, is a key passion. I have continued to explore and learn in nature through my career and training in volcanology field research, STEM education program development, and anthroposophical art therapy.
“The rich diversity of topics covered by knowledgable experts was extremely engaging, the field trips were wonderful, the facilitators were great, as was Maddy in keeping us all informed. The calendar was a terrific initiative and offered opportunity to engage more specifically with others in the group. The home project was also a lot of fun and a great way to apply the knowledge we were gaining.”
Sue, Merri-bek 2022
“It’s been a wonderful experience, and I have learned so much about nature and Victoria. There’s a lot of knowledge that will stay with me for my entire life, and many areas that I will do further research into!”
Sophie, Melbourne 2019
“Sharing of Knowledge! So grateful to have had the opportunity to listen to and engage with subject matter experts from all fields. Such a great program, delivering a crash course in all things environmental and supporting a practical approach to engagement as an individual and on a group level.”
Louise, Merri-bek 2022
“This program is an excellent, broad introduction to the local/Victorian environment and the significant issues it faces, along with the many ways that we can assist in its protection. The program has connected and fleshed out bits of prior knowledge I had and will lead me into more thorough reading of books and other publications, from those recommended over the ten weeks. What I have<br>really appreciated about the course is the bringing together of so much useful information, that might have otherwise taken me years to pick up … A very convenient package! Thank so much for offering this in Geelong in a very accessible way, good entry-level information, great facilitator and presenters.”