Volunteer Voices Saving our Species

Meet a couple of volunteers helping Save our Species in the Snowies and learn more about the efforts to save a rare plant found only in Sydney's northern suburbs.

Mountain pygmy-possum (Burramys parvus) at Charlotte Pass, Kosciuszko National Park

Cassie and Neil in boulder country

We caught up with Cassie Thompson and Neil McElhinney who have volunteered on SoS’s Mountain Pygmy Possum strategy in Kosciuszko National Park (KNP) for several years.


Work: Biodiversity Specialist with the NSW Roads and Maritime Services

Studied: Bachelor of Ecology and Science; currently completing a PhD

Also likes: Travelling to new places to look for new animals, networking through Instagram, e.g. @armchairbirders and @frogfriday pages.

Cassie Thompson has been volunteering for over a decade on the Mountain Pygmy Possum surveys in KNP. Here’s what Cassie says:

Cassie Thompson You can probably tell that I have a soft spot for small mammals, particularly pygmy possums!

Long-running monitoring programs such as this are so important to study threats such as climate change, which this species is particularly vulnerable to and the impacts of feral animal control and other habitat management work.

The program has assisted with my recent studies for my PhD where I am using similar techniques to monitor pygmy possums in the Sydney region.

After my first monitoring session, I wasn’t sure if I was going to come back the following year! It was a hard slog, carrying full trap boxes past the summit of Kosciuszko to Mt Townsend, but the views and the possums made it worthwhile. It always takes a few days to really get my ‘boulder feet’ when completing the surveys.

Volunteering is an opportunity to give back; it’s one of the most rewarding experiences. You learn new skills and meet some amazing people, who will be friends for life.


Work: Resource Regulator (assessing rehabilitation) with Department of Planning and Environment

Studied: Bachelor of Applied Science majoring in vegetation and wildlife management

Also likes: Anything involving the senses - cooking, the written language (the more descriptive the better), art and looking at landscapes

Neil McElhinney has been volunteering on the Mountain Pygmy Possum program for more than 20 years! Here’s what Neil says:

Neil McElhinney The main aim of the project is to monitor possum numbers and to assist university students collect data for postgraduate studies of possum ecology, survey new areas of habitat and to collect data on food (moths) and feral animal predators.

I keep returning because I am comfortable in the sub-alpine environment (almost no matter the weather) and the possums appear to be comfortable with me handling them no matter if I am checking for pouched young or micro-chipping them.

The professionalism and dedication of Dr Broome is another reason I keep coming back – she is inspiring and appreciative of the assistance she receives from volunteers.

Monitoring wildlife broadened my appreciation of the interconnectivity of natural environments and human intervention - you get immersed in the detail if you look. That appreciation is vital for anyone who wants to study ecology and is important to understand the ethics of monitoring wildlife.

Volunteering is about understanding there is a reason for what you are doing and why it is done in a particular way.

Global volunteers help save Grevillea caleyi

Celine Dorey, voluntering to help save Grevillea caleyiCeline Dorey from Montpellier in France is just one of many overseas travellers who opt to volunteer in conservation each year. Celine joined the Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA)’s bush care group near the Northern beaches of Sydney when she was staying at Pittwater YHA earlier this year.

PNHA manages the volunteer component of the work – mainly weeding and seed collection - on the site as part of the SoS strategy for the critically endangered Grevillea caleyi.

Get involved

The volunteer group meets every two months at 8:30 am on the first Monday of the month and the next gathering will be on 6 August.

Contact pnhainfo@gmail.com to join the mailing list for Baha’i Bushcare.