Department of Conservation manager for Predator Free 2050 - Wellington
- Biological Sciences
Alumnus leading the charge in a predator-free Aotearoa
Tagging great white sharks at Stewart Island and taking blood samples from yellow-eyed penguins in the Subantarctic Islands are jobs that Brent Beaven didn’t know existed - but they are all tasks he’s done throughout the course of his career.
Brent is a University of Waikato science alumnus whose degrees have taken him to interesting places and roles. He is the Department of Conservation manager for Predator Free 2050 (PF2050), a New Zealand wide programme introduced in 2016 with a vision to remove possums, mustelids (ferrets, stoats, weasels) and rats from the land by 2050.
Brent graduated from Waikato in the late 1990s with a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science. At the start of his masters programme, the funding for his lab-research into bio-control of possums was cancelled at the last minute and he traded his lab coat for hiking boots to radio track Kaka through the Whirinaki Forest. “I fell into the research by accident which is how so many things in life happen and it was very fortuitous,” says Brent.
The change was the catalyst for Brent’s career in conservation, leading to a job after graduation monitoring native birds, followed by a job in Stewart Island managing its biodiversity programme, where he remained for 16 years. “It was a great place to work at the interface of conservation management and bringing science into decision making,” he says.
Brent’s current role with PF2050 includes meeting with government ministers, coordinating marketing and communications, seeking funding, forming relationships with community and iwi and implementing the PF2050 strategy. “My science degrees gave me a really good basis for applied decision-making and how to structure critical thinking. It was a great foundation for science as well as a management role.”
“Achieving predator free is one thing but how we achieve it is just as important,” says Brent. “Ideally, we will achieve it as we grow conservation broadly, involve community and iwi and ensure kaitiakitangi (guardianship of the land) is expressed.”
The PF2050 planners used logic mapping and worked backwards from 2050 using key milestones to devise a process that will deliver on the milestones. “Success is not about counting dead animals, we are more interested in what number is left and how that is creating a positive biodiversity response while improving social cohesion and allowing kaitiakitangi.” Five years into the programme and there has been significant progress made including an increase in community groups taking control of predators where they live, work and play.
Predator Free Wellington is an example of such success. The programme started on the Miramar Peninsula to remove weasels, stoats and rats and restore birds to the suburbs, and community members can request a free trap to start trapping right in their backyard. Another programme, Capital Kiwi, aims to remove stoats and ferrets from 24,000 hectares of the landscape to bring kiwi back to the foothills.
Brent says keeping the public well-informed and debunking misinformation can be a difficult part of the process. “Creating a sense of community and sharing stories, rather than facts, is key to heightening the awareness we need and encourage the initiative to succeed.”
Brent is now thrilled his masters research changed direction to bring him into the area of conservation. “When I graduated, I didn’t know I wanted to do what I’m doing now - in fact, this role didn’t exist. If new students want to work in the cutting edge of conservation, they will end up in a role that doesn’t exist today and they can’t train for that.
“Students need a foundational degree that encourages flexible thinking and strategic skills. They need to work with people who can translate data, think critically and apply decision making – and a fair bit of that is science.”