Keeping Tasmania’s Rich Biodiversity Alive: Jane Hutchinson

Tasmania is the southern-most part of Australia, an island state that is known for its exquisite natural landscapes and unique fauna. However, it’s future lies in the hands of conservationists and groups like the Tasmanian Land Conservancy, which protects and improves important areas of land, conducts biological research and assists in a huge variety of conservation projects.

The Tasmanian Land Conservancy (aptly acronym-ed, TLC) raise funds from the public to protect irreplaceable sites, endangered species’ habitats, and rare ecosystems by buying and managing private land. I spoke to co-founder and CEO of Tasmanian Land Conservancy, Jane Hutchinson. Jane is a passionate, articulate and considerate leader, who was recognised as the Tasmanian nominee for the 2016 Australian of the Year Awards for her excellent conservation efforts.

Beginning as a volunteer for TLC while working as a lawyer, Jane later switched careers to become CEO of the organisation, advocating for the conservation and protection of our natural world. I interned for the TLC whilst I was studying at university, and can attest to the wonderful inclusiveness, drive and enthusiasm of the organisation that Jane is so clearly proud of. 

From nature-lover to lawyer to environmental not-for-profit CEO 

Jane Hutchinson says her conservation ethic came from a very young age. Growing up on a small farm, about 30 minutes out of the city of Hobart, Jane remembers connecting with nature and her family on a regular basis as a child.

“My parents instilled quite a strong set of values in looking after nature, and being interested in nature,” she says.

“We had a crown reserve in front of our house where there was white gum in that forest. We had lots of threatened orchids and forty-spotted pardalotes and other gorgeous little woodland birds that used to flit about the forest canopy and forage for food on the forest floors.”

In those days Jane would spend hours hunting for orchids and identifying birds with her father. At school, Jane was always interested in science, as well as a keen interest in taking responsibility for things, and not expecting others to do things for her. She then went on to study law and environmental science at the University of Tasmania. After working in various private law firms and for the Commonwealth government in the environmental department, Jane decided she needed to take a different path, away from the high-energy commitments of law and to care for her, then unwell, mother. She was already heavily involved in the Tasmanian Land Conservancy as a volunteer board member, lending her legal knowledge and helping Nathan Males to found the TLC as a not-for-profit organisation: a gig which came about through her partner, the photographer for the TLC.

“Nathan Males was the first president, and the first CEO, and I was the second president and the second CEO, so we kind of changed batons at that time” Jane said. Nathan had approached Jane about taking on the role when he moved on, an offer which Jane initially found hard to take seriously.

“I kind of laughed at him, because we’d worked so hard as volunteers to make it all happen, and I’d just never contemplated that I’d be anything other than a volunteer. … but then I thought about it later and I thought, actually that’s my dream job, that’s what I’d really love to do, and so we spoke to the then board about a transition plan, and the rest is history.”

I ask Jane whether, more than five years in, it is still her dream job. 

“Yeah, I love it. I feel very honoured and privileged to be the leader of the organisation, it’s a fantastic organisation, and it has so much support from all over Australia and internationally. Our supporters are wonderful and so are our volunteers who just give so generously all the time, and our staff and our board are just incredible. It’s an organisation that’s still able to take on new projects and be brave, despite being over fifteen years old. It’s been really amazing.”

Figure 2 Jane at the Big Punchbowl, one of the Tasmanian Land Conservancy's protected reserves. Photo by Matthew Newton.

Figure 2 Jane at the Big Punchbowl, one of the Tasmanian Land Conservancy’s protected reserves. Photo by Matthew Newton.

A day in the life 

There is no typical day in Jane’s role as CEO at the TLC.

“That’s one of the reasons I think I love it so much—its always different. There’s always different things going on and opportunities that arise that you don’t necessarily expect or plan for,” Jane says.

The variety of the work also involves different ways of thinking: for example it may be strategic thinking, or something like planning what needs to be done to a property in the next week. This variation is always exciting, and is always matched with positivity and enthusiasm, making it all the more rewarding, Jane says.

Jane says she is motivated in her job by two things: nature and people.

Students-celebrating-graduation-in-the-search-for-the-Top-Conservation-Training-Opportunities

“I love being in nature, I love knowing that the work that I do helps to continue a legacy to look after nature …having the knowledge that what we are doing is permanent protection for our future is terrific, and that really motivates me. As well as hearing the fabulous stories about nature, and seeing what nature does and that way that it constantly surprises you is really wonderful.”

“And then people motivate me. So our volunteers and the people that give as much as they can to help support the work we do, and everyone from all of staff, to the people from overseas who just send messages of support saying how fabulous it is.”

Volunteering for TLC 

The TLC takes on volunteers of a huge range of backgrounds, skills and their ability to provide their time. Some volunteers work remotely, others are locals, and others travel for the experience. TLC volunteers include people who help with mail-outs, those who help with social media and communications, ecologists in the field, board members and subcommittee members who provide scientific or research advice. Jane says “we have the full gamut; if you can think of a role, we have the equal volunteer position that can mirror that.”   

If you’d like to be involved, or are interested in volunteering, have a look at the volunteering section of their website: http://tasland.org.au/volunteering/

There is a form to sign up online, for people to enter their skills and what they are interested in helping with. The TLC then try to match up volunteers with the appropriate projects.

According to Jane: “the volunteer opportunities that we have are real, so it means that we are not always able to match a volunteer with a role. We want to make sure that people have a really good volunteer experience with us, and that it’s meaningful, not just for them, but also for the organisation. So we do that very carefully and make sure that people have a good experience with us and gain value personally out of that.”

Figure 3 Jane at Five Rivers Reserve, Tasmania. Photo by Matthew Newton.

Figure 3 Jane at Five Rivers Reserve, Tasmania. Photo by Matthew Newton.

2016 challenges for TLC 

Jane says the TLC has the best problem an organisation could have: choosing what to say no to.

“There’s so many opportunities, so many great projects and ideas about how we can do our work and achieve more for nature conservation, and the hard thing is to work out what’s the best thing to do at the time and how best to apply the resources that you have.”

The challenges lie in deciding what’s worth the time and effort, and what will be the best investment of the funding she says. 

Jane’s final advice

I asked Jane what she’d tell someone pursuing a similar career path. Work for an organisation you admire, she says.

“It can be hard work, but incredibly satisfying. Modest not-for-profits can achieve so much because of their flexibility and ability to be agile decision-makers. Find the organisation that is doing the kind of work you value, work out how you can contribute and get involved. It is important that the organisation suits you and vice versa. If you can find that winning combination then you can achieve great things for really worthy causes.”

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