Jobs at DOC: Rod Hay, Science Advisor

Department of Conservation —  16/01/2015

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Today we profile Rod Hay, Science Advisor in Christchurch.


Rod Hay

Some things I do in my job include:

Encouraging collaboration between DOC and external research agencies. I also tend to poke my nose in to a whole lot of other DOC business, mining my long interest and minimal knowledge of conservation matters to give advice on research, recovery programmes, CITES, natural capital and ecosystem services, Pacific Island environmental issues, etc.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

Friday if we work at it.

The best bit about my job is:

Reflecting on a few of the things I’ve been lucky to be involved with in earlier days. Before DOC days Hugh Robertson and I wrote the first species recovery plan in NZ, but it wasn’t for a NZ species. What we kicked off, and Hugh has kept going in concert with many others ever since, is rather spectacular recovery for a wee bird, the kakerori/Rarotonga monarch, that would otherwise have been doomed by now. I was also a co-author of the first Kōkako Recovery Plan, and that has turned out pretty well too I reckon.

The funniest DOC moment I’ve had so far was:
I was at a CITES meeting in Nairobi, watching physical conflict on a matter of great “principle” between two members of the delegation of another country (one quite close to here). Before the meeting I went to see a performance by a Maasai troupe. I was the only member of the audience, so they asked me to join them. Then there was no audience at all, so we just had fun jumping up and down together!


Iceland—cold, but spectacular

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee who inspires or enthuses me most is:

It is hard to single out, so I won’t. But I can’t imagine achieving what we do without the many smart and practical people, who I won’t name, like Terry, Pete, Dave, Hugh, Colin, Susan, Clare, Geoff R, Elaine, Elaine, Ross, Jo, Jenny, Moira, Ian, Margaret, Derek, Mandy, Theo, Graeme and Kath. I could go on and on.

On a personal note

Most people don’t know that:

The picture of the forest on the back of the $50 note was from a photo I took at Pureora Forest. No I didn’t get a royalty! I understand that the Reserve Bank has just bought a whole stack of Rob Suisted’s photos for the new banknote series, hence the need to make that boast while I can.

The music that cheers me up or moves me to tears:

It varies. One day it might be Pink Floyd’s High Hopes. At another time, it will be Thousands are Sailing by Planxty, perhaps because it echoes the journeys made here by my Shetland and Irish tūpuna. Keith Jarrett got me through my PhD writing, while Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major is sheer delight at any time.

Rod with the NZ delegation at a CITES meeting.

Getting all official! NZ delegation at a CITES meeting.

My happy place is:

Home or in the garden with my dear friend, mentor and wife Lin Roberts. Our kids Tom and Hester have grown up and left home but their spirit still inhabits the house, along with their books, toys, school projects, pets, etc.

If I had to choose a wild place, where would be nicer or more dramatic than Lake Poteriteri Hut?

My best ever holiday was:

Tramping the Heaphy in a group of 20 friends and family a few years back. That’s closely followed by some of the jaunts Lin and I have had in the last few years, such as walking the edited highlights of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, being guided through Japan this year by Tom or, just a month or so ago, on a too short trip to Iceland. How about driving in a landscape of moss, mountains and ice, through an atmosphere tainted by Bárðarbunga’s eruption, and with Jónsi and Sigur Rós proclaiming loudly from the car stereo? Magic!

My greatest sporting moment was:

When I took gold in the 100 and 200, and bronze in the 400 metres at the 1969 Kotemaori Show. Ah, heady times, winning $4.50 as a professional athlete!

Lake Poteriteri.

Bird counting at Lake Poteriteri. Such a marvellously remote place!

Deep and meaningful

My favourite quote is:

“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” – Douglas Adams.

I once had the joy of taking him to Kapiti Island. Afterwards we had dinner and discussed how mice ran the world.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given was:

Professor John Morton in 1978 told me to take a job offer with Forest and Bird to study kōkako, thereby hugely delaying the more sensible option, my PhD write-up. Highly risky but it turned ok, didn’t it…didn’t it? Other advice I’ve read recently is to keep my head down for fear that someone might discover that I don’t have imposter syndrome after all.

Rod Hay with the Kokako Research Group in 1978.

Avert your eyes from the stubbies, sandals and cardie! This was the Forest Bird (Kōkako) Research Group in 1978.

In work and life I am motivated by:

The need to do something about the scary situation that we humans have created through greedy and wasteful use of the world’s resources. It is not too late to create a more sustainable future but, unless there are big changes, disaster is looming, so let’s work on those changes.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

Not to be afraid to loudly proclaim how important our natural, recreational and historic heritage is for our well-being, as a nation and as a species.

Rod at Erg Chebbi in Morocco.

A place to kick off the shoes – Erg Chebbi in Morocco

Question of the week

What is your favourite time of the day and why?

It has to be dawn. Maybe that’s because for me it has rarity value, because lying in bed is pretty good too. But for a bird man, lapsed fisher, and keen photographer, that’s when all the action is, and when the light is best.

One response to Jobs at DOC: Rod Hay, Science Advisor

    Louise Woodhead 16/01/2015 at 9:11 am

    I really love reading about the human factor of DOC. You are all amazing, hard working people. Rod Hay what a man to work with. I wish. Keep doing a great job and keep the profiles coming they are great. When school goes back will be sharing them with my students to show them what can be done.