Celebrating women at QEII: Jesse Bythell
Jesse Bythell is a great example of women working in conservation. We’re proud to have her as part of the QEII family as our Southland regional representative.
“I’m helping someone bring forth something amazing – whether it’s a wetland or a forest or tussocks they’ve got on their farm. I’m helping them create a protected – and hopefully self-sustaining – system but I’m not driving it, the landowners are,” Jesse says.
Jesse has been working for QEII National Trust for over three years, bringing experience including biological weed control work for regional council Environment Southland and plant surveys and monitoring for the Department of Conservation. This work followed two life-changing decisions in 2005 to leave Christchurch for Southland and to switch from linguistics to an environmental career.
Despite her urban roots, Jesse had a connection with nature from childhood through a love of tramping and gardening, visits to sheep stations in Canterbury with her sheep shearing stepfather and holidays at a family bach in the Marlborough Sounds.
One significant factor in the decision to move south in 2005 was the chance to spend more time indulging her passion for alpine botany. “I’m a self-confessed plant nerd. One of the great things about this region is its diversity of ecosystems and species – I find that so stimulating.”
Jesse was first encouraged to apply for the job of regional representative 10 years ago when it became vacant but she didn’t feel ready then. “It came around again eight years later and it was just perfect, so I put my hat in the ring and got the job – I was delighted. Good things come to those who wait!”
The human side of the job is as fascinating as the botanical discoveries. Every week her work involves dozens of conversations with a diverse range of people. “It’s not all about finding cool plants and scurrying around on your hands and knees – it’s about working with people and communicating the values in a respectful way and getting the tone right.”
Every covenant is unique and each has its own story. One covenant going through the registration process covers a beautiful red tussock gully system with very high natural and ecological values. “The farmers love it for its beauty but they recall in the time their grandfather owned the farm, the neighbour lost his tractor trying to develop a similar wetland system. So generations ago the land was left undeveloped because they didn’t want to lose their tractor. Now they want to protect it forever.”
One of the most satisfying aspects for Jesse is working for an organisation she believes in. “It’s a real privilege to work for an organisation like the trust because you have pride in what you do and feel you can contribute to something you feel is going to last beyond your lifetime. I think being able to work on a project with the landowners and the trust is really special and I really enjoy that.”
Jesse’s love of the outdoors and of nature extends well beyond her work for QEII. She helps run the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network website, has been on its committee for seven or eight years and does other voluntary work for the network. “I’m up to my eyeballs in native plants,” she jokes.
Horse riding is another passion, and she has combined this with her love of conservation by gathering friends for weekend treks to clear wilding pines on pastoral stations. She also helped develop a draft a guide for others who like the idea of putting together a “conifer cavalry”.
Living in a small settlement with no shop pub or post office and 20km from the nearest supermarket would not suit everyone brought up in a city. But Jesse loves rural life and the rural community, including joining friends to play the banjo in a group playing and singing “old time music”.
“I was raised by liberal hippies in the city and now I live in heartland New Zealand, have friends in the rodeo scene, play the banjo and am getting into hunting. I don’t know if my mother is worried about me but it’s all good.”