Jobs at DOC: Paul Jacques, Ranger (Biodiversity Monitoring)

Department of Conservation —  13/05/2016

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 Paul Jacques, Ranger (Biodiversity Monitoring) based in Invercargill.

At work…

Paul releasing a juvenile wandering albatross, Bluff.

Releasing a juvenile wandering albatross, Bluff

Some things I do in my job include:

In the summer I work with my team to deliver the biodiversity monitoring across Southland and Otago. My main role is to complete the bird and mammal measures (5 minute and distance counts, ungulate pellet counts and chew cards for possums), and I also dabble in a bit of vegetation monitoring when the team needs a hand. In the winter I carry out a bunch of other monitoring work as required e.g. possum trap catch monitoring and provide support with other projects. This winter I am the site lead for the Battle for our Birds sites in Murihiku District, so I’m really looking forward to making an important contribution to protecting the native species that I monitor in the summer.

This helps achieve DOC’s vision by:

I gather data to inform conservation management decisions and to detect large scale, long-term changes in ecosystems such as species composition, distribution of pests and so on. Our data is also used for national and international reporting.

The best bit about my job is:

I get paid to go bird watching. Although it is often not quite as straightforward as that, there are many days when I thank my lucky stars that I have landed a job doing something that I love, (the other sorts of days are mostly forgotten by the end of a trip). But really the best part of the work is the team of energetic, amusing and talented people that I work with; they make the job worth doing, and I would be a sad and lonely bird spotter without them!

Paul and colleagues above the Footstool, Milford Sound.

Anna Harris, Max Crowe and I above the Footstool, Milford Sound, contemplating the walk down to a monitoring plot

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

Tough question as I have held a bunch of different roles and worked with a lot of great people over my 10+ years working for DOC in Southland, but since I have to pick one, my buddy Willy Gamble gets my vote. I don’t know anyone who is a more committed conservationist, both at work and at home. He is active in promoting conservation in his local community and his backyard is an urban oasis of native plants, vegetables and quirky driftwood sculptures. As a colleague I’ve always been impressed by his creativity and inspired by his positivity and his gift of seeing the funny side of things.

On a personal note…

Most people don’t know that:

I have an identical twin brother who is also a bird surveyor but on the other side of the world. Sean and I started watching birds when we were 10, (bird watching is a popular hobby in the UK, where we grew up), and although we have both had various other jobs, for a fair portion of each of our careers we have been bird counters. Sean is currently completing flight path surveys of seabirds and birds of prey in Scotland to mitigate bird strike issues at proposed wind farm sites. At this moment he’s probably up to his knees in snow, waiting patiently for something interesting to fly over.

Sean and I in juvenile plumage, cycling around Scotland, 1999.

Sean and I in juvenile plumage, cycling around Scotland, 1999

My happy place is:

A backcountry hut somewhere, probably in the Eyre or Takitimu Mountains, pleasantly tired after a big day, with the fire crackling and a full belly.

My best ever holiday was:

Tramping the Pyke-Hollyford over Christmas/New Year with Amber, my lovely partner. Eight days with no rain, 120 kilometres of challenge and adventure, and some interesting characters met along the way too. The cableway over the Olivine River added a bit of excitement, I’m sure it is much safer than it feels. Returning to civilisation after a tramp like that felt like a bit of anti-climax!

Paul tramping with his partner Amber at Port Craig.

Happy place: tramping with my sweetheart, Amber McRae at Port Craig

My greatest sporting moment was when:

I headed the winning goal for Southend United against Queens Park in the Premier League. That’s the Southland Premier League. The ball was played in the air a lot that day because the pitch was totally waterlogged. In driving, horizontal rain I somehow distinguished the ball from a passing red-billed gull, leapt like a salmon above the lumbering central defender and met it as it dropped out of the sky like a brick. As I lay on my back in a puddle, I dimly registered a roar from my teammates as the ball nestled into the top corner of the net. Ah, the beautiful game…

My most prized possession is: 

My Sako 75 in .243 a.k.a. the “meat bringer”. I purchased it second-hand in 2011 and have since taken a lot of deer with it plus a bunch of chamois, goats, wallabies, pigs etc. It shoots extremely well; I just have to try to point it in the right direction. I haven’t bought meat from the supermarket since I have owned it, which says as much about wild animal numbers in Southland as it does about my hunting abilities. Last winter I even shot a stoat with it; I didn’t eat that.

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is:

One from my late Grandmother, Nellie Jacques, a pint-sized Liverpool Irishwoman who raised 3 boys through the blitz and the hard years that followed. When people poked fun at her diminutive stature she would shut them up by saying that “you don’t get diamonds as big as bricks”.

Baiting a cat bait station on the Tin Range, Rakiura.

Baiting a cat bait station, typical January day on the Tin Range, Rakiura

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

I’m sure that I’ve had all kinds of good advice over the years and I probably ignored most of it; I guess that there is no substitute for making your own mistakes. I do remember Andy Roberts telling me that I should think about applying for this job when it came up, which was a very good call, thanks!

In work and life I am motivated by:

My children, Ursula (12), Dylan (10), George (7). They are wonderful and I am very proud of them. Enough said.

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is:

Get out more. Put down that play station, ditch the big TV, get out there and sample the wealth of adventure that our public lands have to offer. Best of all, take a kid/s with you; you might well start them on an adventure that could last them a lifetime.