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!

Programs:

Apply here

Got any questions? Email [email protected]

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.

 

NW Hub (Macedon, Mitchell, Hepburn Shires) program

  • Saturdays, 16 March – 25 May , exc. EASTER long weekend
  • 9.30am – 12.30pm (4 – 6 field sessions run after class on given dates from 1.30-4.30pm)
  • Venues to rotate during the program: Daylesford, Greater Beveridge Community Centre, to Woodend Community Centre (approx. 3 weeks at each)
  • Macedon, Hepburn, and Mitchell Shire residents: $175 full fee, $45 Concession*
  • Non-residents: $350 full fee, $90 concession*
    *Concession: healthcare card holder, pensioner, full-time student

    Apply

Mornington program

  • Saturdays, 23 March – 1 June, exc. EASTER long weekend
  • 9.30am – 12.30pm (4 – 6 field sessions run after class on given dates from 1.30-4.30pm)
  • Mornington Park Pavillion + Main Ridge Community Hall
  • Mornington Peninsula Shire Council residents: $175 full fee, $45 Concession*
  • Non-residents: $350 full fee, $90 concession*
    *Concession: healthcare card holder, pensioner, full-time studentApply

Ballarat program

  • Saturdays, 6 April – 15 June, exc. EASTER and King’s Birthday long weekends
  • 9.30am – 12.30pm (4 – 6 field sessions run after class on given dates from 1.30-4.30pm)
  • Lucas Community Hub + Clarkesdale Bird Sanctuary
  • City of Ballarat residents: $90
  • Non-residents: $350 full fee, $90 concession*
    *Concession: healthcare card holder, pensioner, full-time studentApply

Knox program

  • Saturdays, 13 April – 22 June, exc. King’s Birthday long weekend
  • 9.30am – 12.30pm (4 – 6 field sessions run after class on given dates from 1.30-4.30pm)
  • Ferntree Gully library and arts centre
  • Cost: $350 full fee, $90 Concession*
    *Concession: healthcare card holder, pensioner, full-time studentApply

Bendigo program

  • Saturdays, 13th April – 18th May
  • 9.30am – 12.30pm (3 – 4 field sessions run after class on given dates from 1.30-4.30pm)
  • Bendigo Library
  • Cost: $250 full fee, $65 Concession*

    *Concession: healthcare card holder, pensioner, full-time student

Merri-bek & Moonee Valley program

  • Saturdays, 20 April – 29 June, exc. King’s Birthday long weekend
  • 9.30am – 12.30pm (4 – 6 field sessions run after class on given dates from 1.30-4.30pm)
  • Djerring Flemington Hub, Debney’s park, Flemington
  • Cost: $350 full fee, $90 concession* Note scholarships available
    *Concession: healthcare card holder, pensioner, full-time student

 

Our Vision

A vibrant community throughout Victoria of well-informed and trained citizens, actively engaged in conserving, observing and interpreting nature.

Our Mission

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

Program information

– 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

Expectations

– 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.

  1. 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!*
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. Plant life
    Time to focus on the fungi and plants of Victoria and your local area. Finding it, naming it, perhaps even unearthing a lifelong passion?
  7. Animal life
    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?
  8. 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.
  9. 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?
  10. 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 Bain
NW Hub, Geelong class facilitator

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.


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.

 


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.


Bob Hartmann
Ballarat Class Facilitator 

Bob grow up in the North West of Victoria in Mallee county and now lives in Ballarat. His tertiary studies included Chemistry and Geology. As a passionate science teacher, he has taught students from prep to VCE through to adults in a range of education settings. Bob has worked in a number of Victoria’s specialist maths and science centres over the past 15 years including most recently at Ecolinc environmental centre based in Bacchus Marsh.

Bob is actively involved in Ballarat’s environmental community, including being the president of the Friends of Canadian Corridor Landcare group which was responsible for the establishment and ongoing development of the 640Ha Woowookarung Regional Park on the east side of Ballarat.

The term “Think Global, act local” has been a foundation for his work in the environmental field. Bob believes in the power of education and the need to engage the broader community in order to improve environmental outcomes for our local areas.


Jess Brown
Bendigo Class Facilitator 

Jess is a passionate environmental educator who, over the past eighteen years, has had the joy of working in a variety of fantastic professional roles in the environmental education and conservation field, including: zoo-based and aquarium conservation education, marine education, Coastcare, Parks Victoria and local government authorities.

Jess has a Bachelor of Arts (Nature Tourism – Outdoor Education and Geography), is a qualified Early Childhood and Primary teacher, and is trained in Bush Kinder nature-play pedagogy. Jess loves the power of connecting people of all ages to nature, though fostering a sense of place and stewardship. Jess is very keen on the health, conservation and sustainability co-benefits of populations being connected to nature.

Jess is a member of local conservation organisations and a long-term member of the VNPA.

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.

 

 

During the Nature Stewards program, participants meet a range of local and state-based environmental volunteer and citizen science groups, and environmental industry partners.

These are wonderful opportunities for participants to find out what is going on, how they might get involved, and options for further education and training.

Note: the showcases that occur depend on the program location and speaker availability.

State-wide environmental volunteering and industry showcase

Regional environmental volunteering and industry showcase

Eastern Region

Melbourne Region

Northern Region

North-West Region

Western Region

West Coast Region

Partners and Supporters

Local Hosts & Program Funders

 

“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.”

Margot, Geelong 2020