You might fancy protecting humpback whales alongside marine biologists in Mozambique, or falling asleep in a forest chalet to the howls of rescued wolves in Portugal. How about tracking elusive snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan, or mighty silverback gorillas in Rwanda? Or you might prefer to clean up your nearest beach here in the UK or rewild a historic forest in Scotland.
If so, you are not alone. Last year’s sustainable travel report from booking.com shows that nearly three quarters of world travellers are looking for ‘authentic’ experiences that reflect the local culture. The STA Travel (statravel.co.uk) inaugural trends report reveals an 11 per cent jump in ‘voluntouring’, with Thailand and Cambodia being the most popular for student and youth travellers looking for a trip with ‘meaning, culture and purpose’.
Justin Francis, founder of the company Responsible Travel (responsibletravel.com), says: ‘Post-Covid-19, many of us will think about holidays differently. We’ll want to do some good. So volunteering definitely has a chance of rebirth.’ And don’t worry, wherever you choose, you’ll still have plenty of time to enjoy a couple of sundowners…
Marine mission: Protect rays and humpback whales alongside marine biologists in Mozambique
Work alongside marine biologists in Jangamo Bay, Mozambique, helping to protect megafauna (rays and humpback whales), tagging sharks and other fish, surveying coral reefs and patrolling beaches at night to keep sea turtles safe.
Love The Oceans is a non-profit organisation that was recently name-checked by Prince Harry and Meghan on Instagram — and Jangamo Bay is the only place it operates. It is thoroughly dug in with the community, building classrooms for local schools and teaching children to swim.
Details: From £995 for two weeks, excluding flights (lovetheoceans.org).
Help wolves in Portugal
Iberian wolves wouldn’t survive in the wild, so the wild has come to them at a sanctuary in Mafra, 40 minutes from Lisbon
You would be forgiven for thinking the Iberian wolf doesn’t need help. It can run at 40mph, travel 50 miles a day and will eat anything to survive, including tree bark.
But these wolves have been rescued; they wouldn’t survive in the wild, so the wild has come to them at a sanctuary in Mafra, 40 minutes from Lisbon.
Volunteers help with feeding (at deliberately erratic times to mimic nature), while monitoring behaviour and pitching in with general maintenance.
You sleep in wooden chalets in the forest, nodding off to the sounds of nature including howling wolves.
Details: From £1,248 for two weeks, excluding flights (oysterworldwide.com).
Join a 13-day project in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan surveying the leopards and their prey, including marmots and ibex
Snow leopards are vulnerable in numbers, though not in character — their ideal habitat is desolate, they are solitary, can take down prey three times their weight and jump 19ft vertically.
Join a 13-day project in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan surveying the leopards and their prey, including marmots and ibex.
Setting out from a mobile tented camp, you will trace tracks and scenes of kills, and set up cameras to capture footage of the elusive creatures. They are so well camouflaged, it is said you could see one without knowing.
Details: £2,278, excluding flights (biosphere-expeditions.org).
Gorilla capital: On a private tour with a vet in Rwanda, you’ll track the endangered gorillas, taking samples, conducting health checks and getting to know their characters
Rwanada is the gorilla capital of Africa. On this plush eight-night tour, you’ll take in the capital Kigali, hike the volcanic peaks of Virunga, kayak on Lake Kivu, and explore the bamboo forests with expert trackers to observe families of rare golden monkeys.
On a private tour with a vet, you’ll track the endangered gorillas, taking samples, conducting health checks and getting to know their characters.
Primatologist Dian Fossey spent her life with them and observed: ‘The more you learn about the dignity of the gorilla, the more you want to avoid people.’
Details: From £10,900, excluding flights (blacktomato.com).
Aid Romanian bears
Head to Romania to help monitor rescued bears’ wellbeing and assist with tours. Accommodation is in medieval Brasov
Visit this bear sanctuary, founded by a woman who was appalled by restaurants that were using caged bears to attract customers.
That practice was made illegal and the sanctuary houses more than 70 rescued bears in 160 acres of oak and hazel forest, with freshwater pools and hibernation dens, in Romania’s Carpathian mountains.
The bears feed on vegetation in the forest and a ton of extra fruit and vegetables that volunteers help distribute daily.
Guests will also monitor bears’ wellbeing and assist with tours. Accommodation is in medieval Brasov: don’t miss Dracula’s castle, which is near by.
Details: From £1,299, excluding flights for eight days (responsibletravel.com).
Core team: Harvest helpers pick apples and enjoy lake swimming and mountain hiking in their leisure time
No one had lived on the farm Ovre Brekkebakkadn in Oppland county for 35 years until 2017. The current owner has added solar panels and a log cabin.
There is one room and a big tent to live in. Participants help on the farm and, when you are not at work, there is lake swimming and mountain hiking near by.
Details: Annual membership of WWOOF (WorldWideOpportunities on Organic Farms, wwoof.org.uk), which links visitors with organic farmers, is from £22. Farm stays are free.
Greek bird life
Visit Greece’s Lake Kerkini National Park where you’ll spot birds including hoopoes with magnificent feather crowns, golden eagles and dalmatian pelicans
Start the day being serenaded by shy golden orioles and nightingales before a walk and picnic, with knowledgeable guides pointing out all things flight and beautiful in northern Greece’s Lake Kerkini National Park.
There are more than 80 types of butterfly to be seen, including Ilex Hairstreak, Freyer’s Purple Emperor and the Camberwell Beauty. Birds include hoopoes with magnificent feather crowns, golden eagles and dalmatian pelicans.
During a week-long stay you will be supporting a wildlife conservation charity that invests in local projects.
Details: From £1,195 for seven days, excluding flights (greenwings.co).
AND CLOSER TO HOME…
Clean our beaches
Fight against plastic: Join a Great British Beach weekend – held across nearly 500 beaches — and you can become a ‘citizen scientist’
A rusty chainsaw, a wedding ring and a metal pole that was part of a World War II sea defence were among the items discovered by volunteers during previous Great British Beach Clean weekends. Join one of the events — held across nearly 500 beaches — and you can become a ‘citizen scientist’.
The Marine Conservation Society uses the information gathered by its campaigns.
Discarded plastic bags are causing huge problems. A recent study showed that every seal, dolphin and whale washed up on our shores had traces of plastic in its stomach.
Details: Free (mcsuk.org).
Be a canal hero
On week-long canal camps in the Vale of Belvoir, you’ll help dismantle one of 18 locks on the Grantham waterway, built during the ‘canal mania’ years of the 1790s to 1810 — all part of Britain’s 6,500 miles of canals and rivers that are in need of restoration.
It seems rebuilding lock chambers, creating concrete foundations and brick or block walls, and learning waterway heritage construction skills unlocks romance for so many volunteers that they are known as #muddymatches. Bring your best steel toe-capped boots.
Details: From £70, including food and accommodation (waterways.org.uk).
Rewild a forest
You’ll plant up to 500 native trees including rare dwarf willows, juniper and aspen during a week’s ‘rewilding’ in Dundreggan, Scotland, a vast acreage that includes remnants of the original Caledonian Forest near Loch Ness.
It’s emotional — many trees are funded by people who dedicate them to a birth, marriage or death. You mark fences with bamboo so clumsy low-flying black grouse (akin to fat chickens) don’t crash into them, and stay in a communal lodge.
Details: From £195 including food, accommodation and transport from Inverness (treesforlife.org.uk).