Student and Alumna selected as BLAKE Ambassadors for 2021

Elizabeth Werner and Brittany Florence-Bennett will travel to Burwood Takahē Breeding Centre and assist with the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) supplementary feeding programme from 14–20 March this year.

Elizabeth Werner and Brittany Florence-Bennett stand in front of green bush wearing their black Blake Ambassador t-shirts.

The Sir Peter Blake Trust was established in 2004 and aims to inspire young New Zealanders to care for the environment through activities and adventures that encourage environmental awareness and leadership and instil a deeper sense of kaitiakitanga (guardianship) within them. Every year, the trust selects a group of 18 to 25-year-old New Zealanders to become BLAKE ambassadors where they get the opportunity to work on conservation projects throughout New Zealand, the Southern Ocean, and Antarctica.

Elizabeth Werner, who is currently in her third year studying a Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Biodiversity, is no stranger to conservation work. She works as a Visitor Experience Volunteer at Zealandia Ecosanctuary helping to monitor kiwi pukupuku (little spotted kiwi) and run talks on takahē, tuatara, and kākā for visitors.

“I work with the takahē at Zealandia Ecosanctuary, Nio and Orbell, and love spending time with our rare endemic manu (bird) species. When I heard that the BLAKE ambassadorship could mean spending a week helping the takahē population in an area of the South Island I had never been to before, I applied immediately.”

Elizabeth is relishing the chance to work with takahē in their natural environment.

“It will be fascinating to see them in the red tussock grassland which acts as their main food supply. I am looking forward to seeing how the takahē interact with it. I know many volunteers and visitors at Zealandia will find this interesting. The takahē at Zealandia eat ‘lawn grass’ which isn’t quite the same.”

Brittany Florence-Bennett recently completed a Master of Science in Ecology and Biodiversity at the University and now works as a Field Operator for Predator Free Wellington. Being selected as a BLAKE ambassador will allow Brittany to connect with more like-minded people and provide the opportunity to share her experiences and learn from others.

“Connectivity and collaboration are a very important part of conservation, especially when actions are being taken by smaller groups that don’t often have the opportunity to share their wealth of knowledge with the wider conservation network or with the public. Shedding light on what is happening in communities and private entities helps further conservation efforts within New Zealand, whilst also providing an opportunity for public outreach and increased awareness.”

For the last two years, Brittany has spent her free time volunteering at two of Wellington’s conservation organisations: Forest & Bird’s Places for Penguins programme, as well as Friends of Mana Island.

“With the Places for Penguins programme, my team is responsible for monitoring the Island Bay population by collecting presence/absence and breeding data. We’re also responsible for deploying and monitoring traps in order to provide safe nesting sites for the birds.”

“With Friends of Mana Island, we head to the island every two months to monitor species, do track maintenance, weeding, and planting. Due to my MSc speciality (lizards and birds), I’m heavily involved with monitoring green geckos, ngahere geckos, and speckled skinks on the island.”

Both Elizabeth and Brittany will write day-to-day blogs about their experiences at the breeding centre. Once back in Wellington, they will present their experiences to the public through talks at the University, and to community groups and schools. You can follow their progress on the BLAKE website.