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Christchurch university student Ella Peoples received Forest & Bird’s 2023 Te Kaiārahi Rangatahi o te Taiao youth award for her leading role in organising conservation projects and growing the Forest & Bird Youth network.

We ask Ella about her involvement in conservation, what got her started and some of her milestones along the way. 

What’s your story, Ella? What’s your whakapapa and where did you grow up?

I grew up in South New Brighton, which is in eastern Christchurch. I lived about a four-minute walk from the beach for most of my early life.

How did your first get involved with environmental work? When did Forest & Bird Youth enter your radar?

I have always been really interested in animals, particularly sea creatures since childhood. My Forest & Bird Youth journey started when I saw a piece on Seven Sharp in late 2018 about the Christchurch youth hub removing invasive lupin plants in Arthur’s Pass. I’d previously had an interest in environmental issues, but I didn’t really have the opportunity to get involved much until I joined Forest & Bird Youth.

When did you become a Forest & Bird Youth Hub Leader – what has your journey been like?

I became a Forest & Bird Youth leader shortly after joining the Christchurch hub. I had two really great mentors, Alex and Amelia, who founded that hub, and I learnt a lot from them about how to plan and run a range of events.

Ella Peoples travelled in the subantarctic islands in 2021. Image supplied

Ella Peoples travelled in the subantarctic islands in 2021. Image supplied

Tell us about your current hub – how many members do you have and what do you get up to?

The Christchurch hub has struggled to regain momentum after the pandemic, but we have a strong and energetic leadership team, and a small group of great members at our events. We’re currently restoring an area in eastern Christchurch in collaboration with the Christchurch Estuary Trust, and we run planting and maintenance days here once a month. We have some other exciting events coming up - a day trip to Quail Island next month, and a pest detective/trap building evening.

Of all the Forest & Bird Youth environmental initiatives and projects you have been involved with so far, which ones are you most proud of?

I am currently enormously proud of our hub’s restoration project in Mugford Stream reserve in eastern Christchurch, which we are collaborating on with the Christchurch Estuary Trust. We’ve been working at the site since April, and you can already see the space progressing - we have an amazing team of volunteers. Christchurch’s estuary and the surrounding area is such a cool place and holds a lot of good childhood memories for me. That makes it extra special for me to be working on a project there.

The Christchurch Youth Hub's restoration efforts in Mugford Reserve (with Ella at the front). Image supplied

The Christchurch Youth Hub's restoration efforts in Mugford Reserve (with Ella at the front). Image supplied

What is your favourite NZ wildlife encounter? Paint us a picture

I was incredibly lucky to go to the subantarctic islands two years ago, and while I saw an incredible range of wildlife while there, the one that really stands out was coming eye to eye with a beautiful southern royal albatross on Campbell Island. I had never seen an albatross up so close and was blown away by the sheer size of it. After sitting to watch the bird for a while, another landed, and I got to watch the pair performing their courtship dance. It was like stepping into an Attenborough documentary, totally incredible.

If you could share one message with the government about the environment, what would it be?

Prioritising nature-based solutions provides long-term benefits for both conservation and the economy - by protecting our aquatic and terrestrial environments, we can halt species declines, preserve key biological resources and provide buffers against climate change and natural disasters.

Why is youth involvement in environment and sustainability so critical right now?

To put it bluntly, we as youth have the most skin in the game when it comes to the climate and biodiversity crises. We will be here to watch it all unfold, and most of the young people I have met are deeply concerned about these issues. We feel more of a sense of urgency to deal with these issues than the older adults around us most of the time.

Ella Peoples testing the water in Mugford reserve. Image supplied

Ella Peoples testing the water in Mugford reserve. Image supplied

What have been your challenges in environment and sustainability as a rangatahi (gender, age, other barriers in the field)?

I’m aware that I am in an incredibly privileged position where I have the time and capacity to be involved with a cause that I’m passionate about. I would love to see more outreach to high schools in low socioeconomic areas, to get those young people involved in conservation. Getting young people engaged in conservation can hold great benefits for everyone, and I would like all rangatahi in New Zealand to have access to the same incredible conservation opportunities I have had.

Read Ella's Te Kaiārahi Rangatahi o te Taiao youth award citation here.

Join Forest & Bird Youth

Forest & Bird Youth is a nationwide network of young people (aged 14-25) who are protecting and restoring Aotearoa's wildlife and wild places. Join this nationwide community and get involved in opportunities, events, competitions and more. This is also a space to support you in your involvement and journey within the network. Grow as a leader, a volunteer, and as a conservationist.

Find out more on our Forest & Bird Youth webpage
Visit the Forest & Bird Youth Facebookand Instagram

This article first appeared in the August 2023 E-news.

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