Get Involved as a Landowner or Community Scientist

Join Our Landowner Network!

Do you want to learn about plants, birds, pollinators and other wildlife that inhabit your property, achieve land management goals while fostering biodiversity? Participate in our grassland biodiversity surveys!

How it works. Step 1:

During a site visit, our researchers will discuss with you your property, goals, the landscape’s suitability for surveys, establish locations, and explain survey protocols. *Please note that surveys generally require 20-30+ acres of grassland habitat, with management delayed until July 1st on the property.

Step 2:

VWL staff and a team of Smithsonian scientists, graduate students, interns, and trained community volunteers survey a range of plant, pollinator, and bird species and collect soil samples. This data provides our team with a snapshot of the biodiversity on your property.

Step 3:

At the end of each season, we share a summary report of the species observed during the surveys. This is an exciting opportunity for you to have an inventory of the grassland plant, pollinator, and bird communities found on your property!

Step 4:

We use data from all participating properties to inform long-term studies on the relationships between land management and native biodiversity, supporting conservation and land management decisions to better serve Virginia’s grasslands and you!

Become a Community Scientist!

Are you interested in doing field work for conservation science, learning more about Virginia’s wildlife and plant communities, searching for rewarding volunteer opportunities in your community? Virginia Working Landscapes may be just right for you! *Volunteer recruitment is currently closed. Please email VWL’s Volunteer Coordinator, Erin Shibley, ( to be added to our list of prospective program volunteers

Grassland Bird Surveys

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.

Click Here for Bird Survey Details
  • Field Season: May-June
  • Point counts are carried out within 3 hours of sunrise and take approximately 45-60 minutes per site (three 10-minute counts)
  • Time commitment is a minimum of 3 survey sessions plus training (estimated 20 hours including travel)
  • Each volunteer will supply their own personal binoculars and a field guide; survey datasheets and site directions will be provided by the survey coordinator

Grassland Plant Surveys

Introductory training includes the survey protocol and a safety briefing. Most teams will be assigned one site, though some may request additional site assignments. VWL hosts plant ID sessions at SCBI throughout the summer. Survey teams bring unidentified plants collected during their field surveys to ID sessions, where surveyors use keys and the expertise of the collective group to determine species ID.

Click Here for Plant Survey Details
  • Field Season: June-August
  • Sites take approximately 6-8 hours to survey
  • Surveyors are asked to commit at least 5 days but the scheduling of the survey dates can be flexible; on average plant survey volunteers contribute 40-50 hours each year including travel time
  • Datasheets, protocols, site directions and Robel poles for surveys are provided by the VWL survey coordinator

Grassland Pollinator Surveys

The survey goal is to assess number and diversity of pollinators at working cattle farms in northern Virginia. Introductory training in May includes a brief overview of project goals, survey protocols, data collection, and site assignments. Volunteers will be given resources to study basic pollinator identification and survey methods. After the introductory survey training, we host a field-based practice survey in June for volunteers, where we demonstrate and practice survey techniques. 

Click Here for Pollinator Survey Details:
  • Field Season: July-September
  • Pollinator surveys are carried out in the afternoon between 12:00 – 4:00 PM and when the weather is conducive to promoting pollinator activity (sunny, dry, low wind). 
  • Estimated time commitment is 20 hours total including travel, a minimum of 3 survey sessions plus training. Each survey session (includes 4 survey transects) will take between 1-2 hours to complete.
  • For each survey, the surveyor will walk a 200 foot transect for 15 minutes and record the number and types of pollinators seen during that time period.

What to Know:

VWL provides volunteers training in the protocols used to collect data, and we do the coordination which allows surveyors access to the properties where our surveys take place. Before each survey season begins VWL hosts mandatory protocol training sessions at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. Our training sessions also include field safety and introductions to survey partners.

Beginners are welcome! VWL welcomes volunteers with all experience levels, from novice to professional. We give our volunteers hands-on training and work to pair newer community scientists with volunteers 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.


  • Opportunities to apply skills to ground-breaking scientific research
  • Training in the ecology of Virginia grassland communities
  • Training in survey protocols for specific guilds (birds, plants, pollinators)
  • Opportunities to learn from scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
  • Opportunities to network and learn from others of similar interests
  • Admission to VWL workshops, lectures and training events
  • Free membership in the Volunteer Association at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo


  • Contact VWL Survey Coordinator, Erin Shibley, at to join our volunteer applicant email list
  • Apply for Smithsonian Institution volunteer registration during application period
  • Complete a background check; the VWL survey coordinator will assist with this process
  • Participate in introductory training sessions for your preferred survey(s)
  • Completion of assigned field surveys and delivery of data
  • Professional demeanor and reliability in communicating with VWL staff, interns, survey partners, landowners, and fellow volunteers
  • Prompt replies to emails concerning logistics and data management


VWL is supported 100% by grants and donations and our work is made possible by the generous contributions from our community.

The Smithsonian Institution is a 501(c)(3). All contributions are tax-deductible.


Virginia Working Landscapes
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
1500 Remount Road, MRC 5537
Front Royal, Virginia 22630