The Youth EnviroLeaders Forum 2016

Department of Conservation —  08/07/2016

By Millie Willis, Taupo Community Ranger.

This week is Leadership Week; a time for New Zealand to celebrate great leadership, and a time for us to highlight some of the work the Sir Peter Blake Trust does to foster and celebrate kiwi leadership.

Today is also Red Socks Day, a symbol of the kiwi spirit. No matter what the odds or the competition we face, if we set our sights on a goal, we can achieve it.

In April, 57 secondary school students from around New Zealand and the Pacific descended on the Nelson region to take part in the Sir Peter Blake Youth EnviroLeader’s Forum. As a mentor involved in the programme, I got to see first hand how our young people not only care about the environment, but really want to make a difference.

The Youth EnviroLeaders’ Forum (YELF) is run by the Sir Peter Blake Trust in partnership with the Ministry for the Environment (MFE). For this year’s programme, Minister Nick Smith chose his home region of Nelson as the location for the week-long forum to focus on the themes of ocean health, biodiversity and pest eradication.

The programme was action-packed, hands-on and student-driven including snorkelling near the Horoirangi Marine Reserve, kayaking with orcas in Cable Bay, visits to the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary and Cawthron Institute, and a full day spent in the Abel Tasman National Park to see the work of Project Janszoon.

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Aoife Broad ready to deliver tracking tunnels in Brook Waimarama Sanctuary for a volunteer day. Photo by Amelia Willis.

Evening sessions complemented the field trips with workshops, fierce debates, and a fantastic session with Devon McLean on the aspirations of Predator Free NZ.

The week gave students the opportunity to explore environmental issues facing our country, and develop strategies to address them in collaboration with like-minded young people from all around the country. Their passion, intelligence and dedication was highlighted on the final day when each student presented on one of the key themes to Nick Smith himself – calling for commitment and change for their future.

It was a fantastic opportunity to see what young people are focused on, and witness their incredible drive to get involved.

After the visit to Brook Waimarama Sanctuary, they got together and raised enough money to sponsor four fence posts for the nearly complete predator proof fence, inscribing Sir Peter’s words “Never take no for an answer” on each one as a lasting contribution of YELF 2016.

Two months on, the group is still connected through a Facebook group – sharing ideas, events and projects they are involved in. Myself and other mentors often get requests for information and advice. They take part in planting days, trap lines, beach clean-ups and more than one has since set up an enviro-group at their school.

millie-and-group

Me and my group, including Mary Grace from the Northern Mariana Islands. Photo by Liam Butler.

YELF has united them, and given them a kick start on their way to becoming our future environmental leaders.

“As we learnt, each and every individual has the capability to contribute to not only environmental change in their community, but any kind of change in this nation as a whole. If you have an objective, or a goal, you are FULLY capable of creating it. Get people behind you, supporting your idea. And TOGETHER, as a collective unit, your idea should come into effect. Mahi Tahi – work as one.” – Aoife Broad of Wellington

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YELF group photo 2016. Photo by Neil McKenzie, Sir Peter Blake Trust.

About YELF

This was the thirteenth annual Youth EnviroLeaders’ Forum. Students take part in field trips and workshops, spending time with experts, politicians, business and community leaders, staff from the Ministry for the Environment, and inspirational Sir Peter Blake Trust Alumni.

Initiatives like YELF, the Blake Ambassador Programme and Leadership Week are part of the Trust’s commitment to supporting Sir Peter Blake’s legacy.