Meet Leona Plaisier, our Conservation Champion for September 2012.

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Celebrating businesses, community groups, iwi and volunteers who are making important contributions to conservation in New Zealand

This month’s Conservation Champion is Marlborough Sounds teenager Leona Plaisier who was recently nominated for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) International Young Conservationist Award.

Leona with two of her pest detection dogs.
Leona with two of her pest detection dogs

Leona, 17, was raised on a 42 hectare section of bush in the Outer Pelorus Sound that was purchased by her parents, Brian and Ellen, in 1994. Her family has dedicated all their time to the restoration of this land now known as the Tui Nature Reserve. The reserve can only be accessed by boat, and 38 hectares of the land is now legally protected as part of the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust.

In 1994 the reserve was suffering from the effects of introduced pest species such as possums, rats, pigs and stoats, so the Plaisiers started a 'low-key' pest management scheme. They had a small budget and little knowledge of the subject so they started learning from DOC, books, and possum trappers who helped them get started.

Leona and her dog hard at work detecting pests.
Leona and her dog hard at work detecting pests

Now, nearly 20 years later, the predator numbers are low and native trees are starting to flourish – with some already reaching maturity. Young native birds have also started appearing in the bush. Leona and her family now assist private land owners and trusts with setting up their own pest control programmes and they own and train pest detection dogs.

To raise money and awareness for the Tui Nature Reserve, the Plaisiers set up accommodation and tours on site for people who want to spend time on the land. They also run a volunteer programme for those who would like to have a more hands-on experience and take part in some of the work the family is doing.

As a young adult, Leona shares her parents’ passion and vision for restoring and maintaining the biodiversity of the Tui Nature Reserve. She works actively on the land and talks to school groups and visitors about conservation and the family’s project.

The Marlborough DOC office nominated Leona for the International Young Conservationist Award and although she didn’t win, she is definitely among New Zealand's young leaders when it comes to conservation.

The winner was Elisângela Sales dos Santos, a Park Guard with the Amazon Conservation Team in Brazil.

Check out this video of Leona working with her pest detection dog. 

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