Claire Booth is a 30-year-old from Surrey who has been volunteering in Portugal under the European Solidarity Corps programme with environmental non-governmental organisation MONTIS.
Looking to experience a different way of living, Claire and her boyfriend, Juan Alemany Ríos, began their adventure in January. Claire took a break from her activities to tell us a bit about the tasks she has been involved in, what she has been learning, as well as sharing some lovely memories from her volunteering so far, such as becoming accustomed to spotting wildlife while on placement.
“After spending most of our twenties bound to a desk in busy capital cities, my boyfriend and I wanted to try something different, practical, and based outdoors. Having previously been involved in other EU programmes, we were familiar with the European Solidarity Corps and decided to join the platform.
"After spending most of our twenties bound to a desk in busy capital cities, my boyfriend and I wanted to try something different (...)."
We discovered the project LIFE Volunteer Escapes – Volunteer with European Solidarity Corps for Activities in Portugal with Ecological Sense and set up a Skype interview with coordinating organisation MONTIS.
It confirmed that the project was exactly what we were looking for – practical activities in environmental conservation, the opportunity to learn Portuguese, to discover the country, and to develop an entirely new skillset. With the age range to participate in a European Solidarity Corps projects being 18–30 years, we decided it was now or never and arranged to join in January 2020.
We have been volunteering with MONTIS, an environmental NGO based in the town of Vouzela in Portugal, about an hour from Porto. Through its work, the organisation seeks to support environmental protection, nature conservation and biodiversity promotion.
"The tasks we carry out on a day-to-day basis are pruning, planting, removal of invasive species, and maintenance of paths across the many wild areas and natural parks which the organisation manages."
One of the best things about being a European Solidarity Corps volunteer with MONTIS is the wide range of activities we have been involved in. The tasks we carry out on a day-to-day basis are pruning, planting, removal of invasive species, and maintenance of paths across the many wild areas and natural parks which the organisation manages. However, to raise wider awareness of environmental issues, MONTIS also organises varied public activities such as workshops, BioBlitzes, and guided walks.
One of the guided walks we participated in took place at Campo Benfeito, a mountain village in Serra do Montemuro. Over the course of the walk, we learned about the positive impacts farming can have on an area’s biodiversity, as well as the issues which arise when agricultural lands are abandoned. We wrote a blog post about the activity to encourage more people to join future walks and to learn about the important efforts of MONTIS in the region.
Another example of a more inclusive activity saw us collaborating with volunteers from one of the other partners of the LIFE Volunteer Escapes consortium. We travelled down to Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, close to Lisbon (top image), to learn about their techniques for removing acacias, a harmful invasive species from Australia.
"Through the European Solidarity Corps, we had the chance to support valuable environmental conservation work and to experience a different way of living and working."
When I think back over our time spent as European Solidarity Corps volunteers in Portugal, the following snapshots come to mind.
Taking in the beautiful views while making the (very) bumpy morning journey to the top of Baldio de Carvalhais national park in the MONTIS van. Becoming accustomed to spotting wildlife while working and the first time I accidentally disturbed a sleepy, brightly coloured salamander while planting an oak tree. Munching a much welcome shared snack of bread, cheese, sausage and honey while battling with the elements atop a mountain after a guided walk. Finally, seeing an improvement in our fitness after many a challenging hike to reach remote properties! Fighting my way into and clearing an area of overgrown vegetation, and then stepping back to see a previously surrounded oak tree free and with space to grow. Enjoying a strong coffee and a soft, yet crispy, pastéis de nata after a day of working in the field. Returning after months to an area badly damaged by fire to see the young oak trees we had pruned during an activity with school children growing taller and stronger. Catching the bus early on a Saturday morning to go and explore the beautiful city of Porto for the weekend.
Through the European Solidarity Corps, we had the chance to support valuable environmental conservation work and to experience a different way of living and working. Being able to learn new skills, a new language and to live in a new country, all while being fully funded, is an incredible and unmissable opportunity.
Go and discover what new experiences await you across Europe!”