COVID-19 restrictions have brought an unexpected bonus for South West Rocks Community Dune Care.
A young English traveller has contributed 82 volunteer hours in the past few months weeding publicly owned bush-land.
Peter Dyer, 29, from Cambridge, was planning to settle in Sydney but was staying with friends in South West Rocks when the Sydney lockdown was declared in June, and they decided to remain.
"My hosts took me to a working bee with South West Rocks Community Dune Care," Peter said.
"I enjoyed learning about the Australian ecosystems and how removing weeds can make such a positive difference.
"I had done some volunteer conservation work in the UK, but nothing like this.
"I love being outdoors, and the physical exercise is a bonus too. Tugging a big lantana bush out by the roots is a real workout."
In the short time he's been volunteering, Peter has developed a keen eye.
At one working bee in Hat Head National Park, he spotted some unusual plants.
"At first I thought they were the weed glory lily," he said.
"But then I thought maybe not, so instead of pulling them out, I took a photo and showed it to Alan Hill at morning tea. Everyone got pretty excited, and they ended up being a native orchid that's threatened in NSW."
SWR Community Dune Care secretary Alan Hill conducted extra research.
"We followed up with a botanist who identified the orchid as Geodorum densiflorum, which is at the southern end of its range, and hasn't been seen in the Macleay area for decades," Mr Hill said.
"It's great to have such observant volunteers, like Peter, who can sometimes increase scientific knowledge."
Luckily Peter's time in South West Rocks coincided with the annual visit of some 20 young volunteers from Newcastle University Student Environmental Club (NUSEC).
"We worked together every morning for a week, along with other local volunteers," he said.
"It was a great social event while we achieved something positive together for the local environment."
Alan Hill: "We were lucky to get the visiting volunteers here from NUSEC in between all the COVID restrictions."
"They are such an enthusiastic and energetic group of young people who make a huge contribution to our work restoring public native bush-land."
The award-winning volunteer group is supported by cash grants from the NSW Environmental Trust and Local Land Services North Coast, plus in-kind donations from NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Kempsey Shire Council.
Using a combination of local volunteers, visiting bush regeneration volunteers and professional contractors, South West Rocks Community Dune Care covers 16 kilometres of coast from the mouth of the Macleay River round to Smoky Beach, south of Smoky Cape lighthouse.
Now that COVID-19 restriction have eased again, South West Rocks Community Dune Care hopes to hold its monthly working bee at Back Creek on Sunday October 23 from 9am-1pm.
"We're still being cautious about COVID," Mr Hill assured.
"Unfortunately, we can't invite new volunteers and people will have to bring their own morning tea and lunch. But we hope we can go ahead with our usual large group of volunteers, including Peter."
Existing SWR Community Dune Care Volunteers are asked to meet at 8.45am on Sunday October 23 at the footbridge at Back Creek, off Buchanan Drive South West Rocks.
For more information please see Facebook SWRcommunitydunecare, or phone Alan Hill on 0419 012 640.
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