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Conservation through conversation with Millie Sutherland Saines

Millie Sutherland Saines is an ecologist and science communicator with the Woodlands & Wetlands Trust, that looks after two reserves in the ACT: Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary & Jerrabomberra Wetlands. Emersed in important box-gum grassy-woodland, a critically endangered habitat, Mulligans Flat is a wildlife reserve situated on Ngunnawal country with a feral-proof fence protecting some unique and threatened Australian animals like the Eastern Bettong, the Eastern Quoll and the Spotted-tail Quoll.

Conservation through conversation with Millie Sutherland Saines | #itsawildlife

Working on Ngunnawal country is really important to Millie, she began our conversation by acknowledging:

I feel very privileged to be able to have been welcomed onto this country and to care for the country that I live and work on… the connection holds a special place in my heart”.

Mulligans Flat is a little bit like an outdoor laboratory: a collection of experiments to conserve native wildlife and reintroduce threatened species that have been lost from the landscape. As Millie says:

Reintroduction science is such an interesting area of ecology, basically putting a broken ecosystem back together. Our aim is to bring back animals that would have inhabited the landscape before European settlement and in doing so, replenish the services they provide for the landscape to function”

“Some species like the Eastern Bettong have been reintroduced within the feral-proof fence after they went locally extinct from the area for over 120 years!”

While at work, Millie wears two main hats: the first, as an ecologist is undertaking the science and conservation work to protect this special area and the wildlife that call it home be it wrangling bettongs, radio tracking or writing grant applications, and the second, as a science communicator, speaking with people about the positive environmental stories that are coming out of Mulligans Flat.

MILLIE’S STORY

For as long as she can remember, Millie has always loved animals and from an early age she intended to work with wildlife. She explains:

“I remember when I was in year two thinking I wanted to be a wildlife carer when I grew up but after discovering this was mostly volunteer work, I started to look elsewhere. Soon after, I did a school project on the bilby and quickly became obsessed with marsupials.”

“I kind of lost my way throughout high school but as an adult I came back to the idea and enrolled in environmental science at university”

After completing her undergraduate degree paired with many years of voluntary work, including at Mulligans Flat, Millie’s persistence paid off and she eventually landed her dream job – a full-time, permanent role sharing the important conservation work being done for wildlife at Mulligans Flat.

“You’ll certainly have your fair share of heart ache whilst searching for a paid job with wildlife – but it can absolutely work out for you!”

ADVOCACY IN CONSERVATION

Through her experience, Millie has come to know all too well the importance of advocacy and science communication for changing hearts and minds on the issues impacting wildlife conservation. With so many big picture issues like climate change and global biodiversity loss, for many people, wildlife conservation is so often portrayed as nothing but doom and gloom. Millie explains:

“In my role, I can translate the great work and research being done to conserve wildlife into laymans terms so that guests feel inspired and aware of all the positive things being done to protect our natural heritage”

“And it’s all about taking the time to engage with people and explain the science behind why we do what we do in wildlife conservation. For example, in the ACT, we do annual kangaroo culls. There’s lots of science that goes in behind it, much of which came from research at Mulligans Flat. One day, I was explaining all the background information to a particular group, and afterwards, a woman come up to me and said “I was actually really against the kangaroo calls before but thanks to your explanation I now see how necessary it is”. Although that doesn’t happen every day, it showed me the power of being able to explain the science”

So, there you have it! Taking the time to share stories and share some knowledge with people can absolutely change their perspective and inspire positive change.

“We get fed a lot of this negative news with the environment. So being able to tell people, you know, Mulligans Flat is just a small group of people making a huge positive impact for wildlife conservation – and you can do things to help wildlife in your everyday life… making small changes like keeping your cat inside, planting native gardens, joining community groups can make a big difference overtime – in this way, individuals can make a tangible difference!”

THE IMPORTANCE OF VOLUNTEERING

In the ecology and wildlife conservation industries today, the best way to gain practical experience and build your field skills (as well as network within the industry!) is through volunteering. Millie says:

“Whether it’s with a local group planting trees on the weekend, or if you find PhD students that you can go out with in the field as assistants, it all helps to build your skills and magnify your impact.”

“Personally, volunteering at Mulligans Flat is eventually how I got my job there.”

And, if you happen to live in (or be travelling through) the Canberra region, you’re in luck – because Mulligans Flat take volunteers to assist with a diverse array of monitoring and reintroduction programs that can expand your experience and build your skills! If you are interested in making a positive difference for conservation AND growing your network and experience, why not check out the Mulligans Flat volunteer opportunities!?

MILLIE’S TOP TIPS FOR WORKING IN WILDLIFE CONSERVATION

Millie’s top 3 tips for anyone starting out in wildlife conservation or looking to work in ecology are:

  • Volunteer your heart out

And don’t just volunteer in the areas that you find interesting – challenge yourself to try projects with plants, reptiles, birds – change it up and broaden your skill set!”

  • Do a course or university unit in GIS

“You will never regret it!”

  • Be brave and ask questions

“I’ve just found everyone who I do ask in the environmental world is so open to sharing their knowledge and experience when they have time – just pick their brains really. And if they don’t have time, make a time, arrange a coffee and ask away!”  

KEEP IN TOUCH

Want to hear more from Millie? Check out our conversation on the podcast! You can follow her updates on Instagram @ecology.millie and twitter @milliekss, and you can find out more about Mulligans Flat at their website or on social media. If you’re in Canberra, pay a visit to Mulligans Flat – they even have a new visitors centre and café, Wildbark – and offer Twilight Tours to experience the amazing nocturnal fauna that call the wildlife sanctuary home!

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Acknowledgements

Millie would like to acknowledge Ngunnawal country on which she lives and works. Mulligans Flat is a collaborative project between Australian National University and the ACT Parks and Conservation Service

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