Celebrating the ‘grassroots’

Henrik and Fiona protecting their new plantings with biodegradable coffee sacks

Henrik and Fiona protecting their new plantings with biodegradable coffee sacks

A couple of weeks back, I attended the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust’s conference – Celebrating 25 years of restoring habitat, sharing knowledge, corporate sponsorship by Mainland and protecting one of the world’s rarest penguins.

The turnout was impressive – some 225 delegates ranging from community group members through to politicians, CEOs and managers. The balance was good with community group members forming a major part of the audience, and a number presenting too. Throwing all together into one room is a very healthy affair – those further up the administrative hierarchy need to better understand the practicalities, values and viewpoints of the groups that trap, weed, advocate, plant and protect the parts of the landscape where their projects are situated. And this is where things got interesting: philosophically, visually and verbally.

Many successful groups i.e. those that endure have developed strategic partnerships. Though this is only one of many ingredients, it’s an important one because it highlights the need to be able to converse fluently in the world of commerce. Some of the infograms on display from managers were intriguing – various pastel ovals and rhythmical arrows dancing harmoniously, tidily, conclusively. The language was one of partnerships and collaboration. Community presentations lacked the pastel panache and occasionally used words like ‘bugger!’ Giggles rippled through the audience, most present absolutely able to relate to the constant challenges of physically demanding work and learning the hard way through experience.

My observations are of a disjunction top down and bottom up, often with a large blurry space in the middle. Despite all of the advances in technology, people still need to be in the same room talking and listening to build substance and definition – especially now with government agencies mapping out new ways of operating. For such community conservation advocate and practitioner numbers to congregate in Dunedin (‘The Riviera of Antarctica’ one bumper sticker claimed) bodes well for similar, future conferences. In all, it was inspiring, exhausting and extremely informative.

I’ve taped a reminder onto the fridge to start a digital wall chart for logging our Mainland cheese purchases – because those diminutive penguins and the Trust that looks after them, deserve it.

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