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Siobain Finlow-Bates. Photo / Babiche Martens.

Conservation Is A Collective Legacy For This Picton Local

For Siobain Finlow-Bates, the strength of community is integral to restoring the environment for future generations, and every little action counts

“It’s that feeling of caring for other things around you, other people, other animals, plants. Doing your bit to help,” says Siobain Finlow-Bates, talking about her conservation work on the phone from her home in Picton. “Like most people who work in environmental work, I live, eat and breathe it,” she admits. "I can’t imagine not doing things to try and help the planet.”

The lifestyle and location of the Marlborough Sounds, she believes, underpins the collective environmentalism in the region. “I think we were lucky in Picton,” she says, explaining that Kaipupu Point (a wildlife sanctuary founded in 2005) was a catalyst for conservation work in the region. "The community was definitely already on that path, and we’re very lucky to be able to use the momentum that they already had.”

Siobain is one of the cofounders of Picton Dawn Chorus, which traps pests in the reserves and in town. As her children got bigger so did the conservation group. “I was just doing that as a volunteer while my baby was little,” she says. “Then we grew enough and got enough funding that it also became my part-time job.” Picton has got right behind the initiative. “It’s been so exciting to see how on board the community is and how many people are willing to get out there and check traps at the weekend and get involved and take part. That’s probably one of the most exciting things about the whole project is getting the town on board.”

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She also works part-time for the Marlborough Sounds Restoration Trust, which controls the invasive wilding pines in the region, does bat monitoring for Forest & Bird, and undertakes conservation outside of work too. “I do all those activities in my spare time as well,” she reveals. “Checking trap lines, and taking the kids out, and I go and talk to the school and help them with their trapping.”

Siobain Finlow-Bates and Lajla Browning (12) and Holly Browning (7). Photo / Babiche Martens.

Siobain and her family spend a lot of time outdoors, enjoying the countryside and bush, and she has been dedicated to nature since she was a child. At age eight she asked her father what she should be. “He said, ’what do you love most?’ and I said, ‘Animals and plants... studying them and helping them.’ ” From then on, she knew what she wanted to do — conservation.

For Siobain, hope — and change — come from working together. “We’ve got a lovely little video that we made for Picton Dawn Chorus at the very beginning and one of the volunteers describes a story about her Dad saying, 'Why do you do this? What difference is it going to make?’  and she said ‘A few drops in the bucket doesn’t make a difference, but if everybody puts a few drops in the bucket, then the bucket will fill.’ “

The message is getting through to the next generation, thankfully, and Siobain often works with schools in the area. “If I go and talk to a class, they already know the whole concept of what’s going on, they really understand about New Zealand biodiversity and the concept of native and introduced. It’s amazing how much the kids here know.”

Siobain Finlow-Bates and Lajla Browning (12) and Holly Browning (7). Photo / Babiche Martens.

She thinks about what she will leave behind every day. “People who are interested in conservation and the state of the planet, we’re probably thinking more about legacies and the future and how we want things to be than your average person,” says Siobain. 

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When looking forward, she cautions that we need to also look back, and look at what we’ve lost already. “That’s one of the things I always think about in Picton,” she says. “There are people that say, ‘It’s wonderful, we’ve got lots of tūī and bellbirds in the tree.’ I think to myself, you’re not even aware of what you’re missing. There would’ve been kākāriki, mōhua, tieke and many other species that now only survive on our pest-free islands.

“It’s heavy,” she admits. “Which is why you need to get out and feel good again by being out and letting nature heal you.” Hope isn’t lost, however, and Siobain stresses how integral community is to conservation — and how accessible it is now, with so many local groups doing restoration and regeneration work. “Find what it is that gets you excited,” she recommends, be it weed control or propagating native plants. “There’s something for everybody, even if you don’t like going out and getting your hands dirty, there’s a way you can make a difference.”

That collective legacy is an exciting movement to be part of. “There’s so many of us here who are doing this, it’s a whole big community.” Conservation is important for our generation to think about, she says, and we should consider how we will be looked back on — what we did or didn’t do. Her goal is for future generations to see species like kaka and pekapeka thriving in the Marlborough Sounds once again. “Sometimes you feel like your little action doesn’t do anything but if everybody takes that action... it all adds up.”

These New Zealanders are sharing their legacy. A legacy isn’t just about what you leave behind, it’s also the impact you have on the people around you and what you create as you live life. Legacies are what we teach our children, the passions we pursue, and the care we take for the planet. How would you like to be remembered? For nearly 150 years Public Trust has helped empower New Zealanders to plan for the future. Write your will online at Publictrust.co.nz

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