Are you interested in doing field work for conservation science? Are you looking to learn more about Virginia’s wildlife and plant communities? Are you searching for rewarding volunteer opportunities in your community? Virginia Working Landscapes may be just right for you!
Each spring, Virginia Working Landscapes recruits citizen science volunteers to assist biological surveys across northern and central Virginia. These surveys are part of an ongoing study of grasslands on working lands here in the Northern Piedmont and the Northern Blue Ridge regions. We are monitoring species diversity for grassland birds, pollinators, and plants under various management regimes and at different stages of warm season grass establishment. In addition, we collaborate with other programs on a number of monitoring projects involving citizen science, such as the orchid survey. Our citizen science volunteers collectively contribute thousands of hours to Smithsonian projects each year, vastly expanding the range of our studies.
VWL provides its volunteers training in the protocols used to collect these data, and we do the coordination which allows surveyors (e.g., our citizen scientists) access to the properties where our work occurs. Before each survey season begins VWL hosts protocol training sessions at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. These protocol training events are mandatory. In addition to survey protocols, training sessions include guidance on field safety and introductions to survey partners.
Beginners are welcome at Virginia Working Landscapes! VWL welcomes volunteers from all levels of experience, from novice to professional-grade. We give our volunteers hands-on training and work to pair newer citizen scientists with partners who are more experienced. We only ask our volunteers come to us with a strong interest in learning and sufficient time to dedicate to our project.
All VWL volunteers are required to register as a volunteer with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old to apply. All volunteers will be required to pass a Smithsonian background check prior to volunteering.
NOTE: Due to current Covid-19 restrictions, the Smithsonian is not accepting new volunteers at this time. If you are interested in volunteering as a citizen scientist for VWL surveys, and would like updates on when volunteer applications will open again, please contact the VWL Survey Coordinator, Erin Thady at: ThadyE@si.edu.
Field Season: May 15 – June 30
Introductory training includes a brief overview of project goals, survey protocols, data collection and site assignments. After the introductory survey training, we host a field-based practice survey for new volunteers, where we reinforce point count techniques. A working knowledge of local bird species is required for participants in this survey.
Field Season: June & August
Introductory plant survey training includes the training protocol and a safety briefing. There is no need to be an expert in Virginia’s native flora. New volunteer plant surveyors will be paired with experienced surveyors. Most survey teams will be assigned a single site, though some may request additional site assignments. VWL hosts plant identification sessions at SCBI throughout the survey season. Survey teams bring unidentified plant specimens collected during their field surveys to plant ID sessions, where surveyors use keys and the expertise of the collective group to determine species ID. This is an excellent learning opportunity for aspiring botanists.