In this episode I chat to Dr Laura Young, a talented botanist and conservationist based in Blenheim. We talk about Laura’s love for ecology and how her career in conservation has evolved, from rediscovering a giant weevil, the Canterbury knobbled Weevil (previously believed to be extinct) to studying wild Spaniards and kea. Laura has a five year old daughter, Cassie, who often comes with her on field trips. She shares some wonderful tips on balancing field work and outdoor time with being a mum.
Early years and her start in conservation
Laura grew up on a small farm north west of Auckland and first started tramping in her teenage years, heading off on regular missions with friends in the central North Island. She became hooked and after completing her undergraduate study in ecology in Auckland, she moved to the South Island to be closer to big mountains.
Academic research and evolving career
Her Masters research through Canterbury University focused on mast seeding and spaniards. She also rediscovered a giant weevil, previously believed to be extinct (read more about the Canterbury Knobbled Weevil here). For her PhD she started looking at seed dispersal of alpine plants, which led her to focus on kea. Laura’s research showed that kea are by far the most important dispersers of seed of most mountain plants and declining kea populations may be detrimental for native plants in the long term.
While Laura is most known for her work with kea at the moment, she has been involved in a range of biodiversity monitoring, research and conservation projects and enjoys engaging with local communities to achieve conservation outcomes. It’ll be exciting to see where her curiosities take her in the future!
This is a wonderful profile on Laura that provides more background on her work in conservation. It was produced by the Department of Conservation LEOTC team in Aoraki Mount Cook Village as part of a conservation pathways resource for secondary school students.
Balancing field work with being a mum
One of my favourite parts of our chat was hearing Laura talk about the juggling act of being a mum and working in conservation. Laura loves bringing friends and whanau along for field trips where possible, which means she can often bring her daughter Cassie along too. She’s now five years old and absolutely loves flora and fauna, with a particular interest in insects. A future entomologist, perhaps?!
Cassie started going on field trips while in the womb and was just two days old when she went to her first science conference. She has also been with Laura while meeting two different conservation ministers.
In this episode you’ll hear about…
- Laura’s study in ecology and how her career in conservation has evolved
- All about Kea! Their role in our alpine ecosystems, predation, beech maasts
- Some of her favourite places for Kea field work
- The Kea Sightings Database – what is it, how can you get involved and what they do with the data
- The first DOC Eastern South Island Kea hui (which happened in Aoraki recently)
- The importance of public engagement and storytelling in the conservation world
- Balancing field work with being a mum (she has a 5yr old daughter, Cassie)
- Laura’s love of being outdoors and tahr hunting
This episode is sponsored by Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand
Fight for the Wild – doco film & podcast series
Fight for the Wild is a documentary film and podcast series exploring the notion of a Predator Free 2050 in Aotearoa. The four 45 minute doco episodes and accompanying podcast episodes are available free here. This series was made possible by the RNZ/NZOA Innovation Fund.
It’s very cool to see such a diverse group of people featured in the series. Laura features a lot and you can even spot her and her daughter releasing a Kea in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park in the video trailer embedded below!
More about Laura
- ‘An Advocate for Kea’ – Profile on Wilderlife blog (by FMC).
- Conservation careers profile on Laura. This Google Doc was produced by the Department of Conservation LEOTC Aoraki education programme team as part of their ‘conservation pathways’ learning resource. This was produced with secondary school students in mind.
More of a Kea focus
- Kea Conservation Trust – the team at KCT work to preserve and protect these unique birds, both in their natural habitat in the wild and in captivity. Laura works part-time for the KCT as a Community Engagement Coordinator.
- Kea Database NZ – a citizen science initiative from the Kea Sightings project.
- Kea Survey Tool. This project aims to measure spatial patterns in kea abundance, and changes in kea abundance over time.
- KEA Kids News: Kea birds eating roof nails that can kill them. KEA Kids News is designed to get young New Zealanders aged 7 to 11 involved in current affairs.
- Arthur’s Pass Kea dying after eating lead nails – a 4 minute excerpt from Morning Report on Radio New Zealand.
- Kea makes flying visit to Marlborough. Stuff article written by Dr Laura Young
- Follow the Kea Conservation Trust on Instagram:
Fun Kea excerpt from BBC Earth
Episode sponsored by FMC
Shout-out to FMC for sponsoring this podcast! For each episode we share something about FMC that links in with the interview…
Many FMC clubs contribute to conservation initiatives; most commonly predator trapping projects, but also re-planting of natives and removal of weeds such as Wilding pines.
In July, FMC is beginning a year-long focus on ‘Volunteering for Biodiversity’ where they will showcase all the ways that you can add to your recreation time in the mountains by doing a bit of hands-on work to preserve the places and creatures you love.
Learn more about FMC here.