Working for us

About Environment Southland

In Southland we're rich in natural resources. They underpin our local economy and give us a fantastic quality of life.  

Ensuring Southland continues to prosper for generations to come means we have to manage our natural resources sustainably.

Regulation and rules will always be a part of it, but success won't be achieved by them alone. It requires a commitment from every landowner, business owner and resident to consider their impact with every decision they make.

Collectively, land users are moving towards this. It's an important shift because our local economy is dependent on the rural sector and its interconnection with our urban communities is very strong.

Currently, dairying is dominant but only 40 years ago it was sheep. We can't predict what the land use might be in the  decades ahead, but we can ensure our natural resources are in the best condition they can be to support it.

And, in achieving this, it means Southland's natural resources will be available for future generations to use and enjoy.

What it's really like to work at Environment Southland?

Ingrid Darragh - GIS team leader


Ingrid Darragh is the GIS Guru having been with Council since 2001 and now has the role of GIS Team Leader. 

She says Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a great tool for bringing different datasets together and analysing them to find out what is happening at a given location.  With a background in I.T. and a knack for computers, Ingrid was given the opportunity to study GIS while working at Environment Southland and has been using the technology ever since.

"In my role I work with different datasets from all over the Council relating to Biosecurity, Consents, Environmental Data and Rates as well as core GIS datasets like aerial imagery and property boundaries.  I am also involved with developing spatial solutions to help meet Council's data needs, for example creating mobile data collection and survey forms for staff in the field.  A big part of my job is taking council data and giving it a spatial representation so that it can be viewed in interactive maps.  Many people find it easier to understand something displayed spatially, rather than in a spreadsheet.  Having information presented in a spatial and interactive way is also helpful when looking for patterns and trends."

In her time with the programme she's watched what started as a system used mainly by local and central government, to something we all use every day without realising it.  When you use your smart phone to navigate and select the best route to take in your car, or you search Google Maps for restaurants near your current location, you are using GIS technology.

While her role within the council doesn't necessarily put her directly in the eye of the public, Ingrid says she enjoys knowing what she does is helpful to both the community and staff. "What we do has a lot of internal application but is also useful to the public, for example the Swimming and Shellfish map on our website that shows if your local swimming spot is safe to swim at, is updated using GIS."

Part of being in the GIS team, means that you may be called on to help in a Civil Defence emergency.  In the past Ingrid has been called on to help out in Wellington after the Kaikoura earthquake in 2016.

When not at work, Ingrid says she can be found enjoying the outdoors, on one of many of the walking tracks in the region.

Matt Hoffman - Senior consents officer

As Southlanders we love our coastal areas. Visitors can't help but be inspired by our 3000 km of dramatic coastlines, spanning from the Catlins and Stewart Island across to Fiordland.

A born and bred Southlander, Matt has been a consents officer at Environment Southland since 2011. His focus is on coastal consent applications, which he says is quite different from other areas in consents due to the lack of property rights. "The fact that the coastline is public space means there can be competing interests and tensions that need to be worked through," he says.

A large part of Matt's role is to act as a facilitator between consent applicants and affected parties. His role is that of an advisor, not decision-maker. This involves gathering and interpreting the information presented to him by the applicant, assessing that information in terms of a range of planning documents and preparing recommendations.

Matt's work is complex. He needs to be able to interpret planning documents and have a good understanding of the Resource Management Act. With a background in science (Honours in Environmental Management and a Master of Science in Geography) Matt understands the complexities of people and their impacts on the environment.

A self-described 'people person', Matt's ability to relate and communicate well with a wide range of people is also key to his success. "It is really important in this job to be a bit of a 'people' person; to be able to build relationships and links."

Site visits – there are worse places to work!

Although Matt spends about 80% of his time in the office, the rest is spent conducting site visits. Site visits to Fiordland and Stewart Island are a real perk of the job.

It's important for Matt to get a sense of potential issues in relation to the 'bigger picture' while visiting a site. Site visits are a vital part of the job, and influence the recommendations he makes to decision-makers.

Outside of work, Matt's a lead singer in not one but two bands, and he writes his own songs as well.

Grace Smith - Environmental technical officer

Grace Smith was so keen to work at Environment Southland she applied for summer student positions two years in a row. A permanent role followed as an environmental technical officer (ETO), and it is fair to say she now knows a thing or two about Southland's natural resources.

It's Grace's first job straight out of university, and she reckons she couldn't have found a better one.

"I really enjoyed science and geography at high school, so I knew I wanted to do environmental work. I went on to get a Bachelor of Science in geology and geography at Otago University and had some summer jobs at various places."

At the heart of it, Grace's role involves the collection of a range of monitoring data on so-called 'runs' that consist of many different jobs. In a typical week, she finds herself wading through a river to look at algae one day, taking water samples in high river flows the next, and then driving off to calibrate monitoring equipment in a far-flung corner of Southland.

The data Grace collects is the basis for a great deal of the council's work. A lot is used for determining river levels downstream as floodwater travels down the catchments, and some of it informs Environment Southland's science programmes, which in turn feed into policy decisions. And some data like toxic algae cover, E.coli levels and air quality is directly used to issue health warnings to Southlanders.

"I love being outdoors. I usually spend three to four days out in the field and get a day in the office for meetings, doing data entry and prepping instruments."

Sometimes, Grace gets to take up the paddle.

"When a river is too high to wade, we'll have the gauging instrument mounted inside a kayak and paddle it across to measure the water flow. It's pretty cool to kayak for work."

When she's not driving, wading or paddling around Southland, Grace can be found sailing, skiing or surfing. Like many of her colleagues, she enjoys the many outdoor opportunities available in Southland, and hopes that her work will help to enable future generations to pursue a similar lifestyle.

The former Southland Girls' High School student has some tips for anyone looking to work in an environmental role.

"My advice would definitely be to look for summer jobs while you're still studying. A lot of what I'm doing now isn't necessarily what I studied at university, but it's in that general science field, which is the case for a lot of people here [at Environment Southland]."

Dave Burgess - Senior biosecurity officer - pest animals

If you're interested in possum control in Southland, Dave Burgess is your man. If you can't find him however, he's probably gone fishing.

A childhood spent camping with his family produced a love of hunting, fishing and a soft spot for Southland's wild places. Consequently, the 'townie from Gore' decided to pursue a vocation into 'something outdoorsy' and a 30-year career in pest control was born.

The Environment Southland senior biosecurity officer says he's been involved in possum control for "too long" and remembers the days when Environment Southland was called the Southland Regional Council, and possum control was carried out primarily for agricultural benefit to control TB.

The first few years of Dave's career were spent working on various pest boards around Southland, initially liaising with farmers to control rabbits and eventually managing pest control operations.

These days he's using his management nous to oversee pest animal control programmes, budgets and staff for Environment Southland.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

He says while the essentials of the job have remained the same, he's seen a shift in the desired outcomes of pest control.

"I think the biggest changes have been in the objectives of the job. These days we see more of a focus on possum control for biodiversity of flora and fauna in Southland rather than the TB component."
This coincides with Dave's involvement in the Environment Southland Possum Control Areas (PCA) Programme, introduced in 2009 to support landowners with possum control on their property and to encourage their collective participation in improving biodiversity.

The rapport Dave forms from these interactions with members of the Southland community is one of the most rewarding parts of his job.

"For me it's not really about the rules and the rates, it's about the relationships you can build with the people you're working with. What drives me is doing something worthwhile for the environment, meeting lots of people and getting to see parts of Southland that your average Joe may not."

Katrina Robertson - Senior land sustainability officer

Her title might be senior land sustainability officer, but Katrina Robertson's job is about much more than just land.

Having worked as a 'land sus' officer in the Awarua/Waituna catchment since 2009, Katrina describes her role as "the link for all things Waituna," for Environment Southland staff and between the community and organisations like the Department of Conservation.

In a nutshell, she works with farmers and communities to achieve sustainable land and water management practices.

Her job is demanding and varied. It might include everything from farm visits to editing scientific reports and briefing policy makers, but getting involved with the community is one of the highlights for Katrina.

"It's not just a job to me; I feel a sense of attachment to Waituna. I enjoy working with people in the community and I want to help them make a difference in the environment."

Katrina comes from a Southland farming family and has a double degree in psychology and honours in geography, but she would be the first to admit that background and knowledge only take you so far.

"You have to be able to develop relationships with people. If you can't build that rapport, you can't work alongside them to implement the changes and reduce the impact on the environment," she says.

A good understanding of the relationship between the natural elements, farming in demanding conditions and respect for the local community, some of whom have been on the land for generations, is essential in Katrina's job.

With her own five acre lifestyle block to keep her busy away from work, Katrina makes the most of the local environment in her spare time, indulging her love of running, mountain biking, tramping, water skiing, paddle boarding and horse riding, while challenging herself to learn to surf.

Lyndon Cleaver - Maritime manager - habourmaster

After 20 years in the Navy, most people would be keen to keep their feet on dry land, but harbourmaster and maritime manager Lyndon Cleaver loves nothing more than getting out on the water.

Taking on this role was something Lyndon has worked towards his whole life, having been a maritime officer with Environment Southland for five years, his previous experience with the Navy and several years working in the maritime section of New Zealand Customs.

To many, the role of harbourmaster may seem like a dream come true – day after day cruising on the water, smiling and waving at other boaties, offering the odd bit of boating safety advice and boarding some of the world's most amazing cruise ships.

The reality is much less glamorous. Sure, there's plenty of time out on the water but it usually means working at the times when others are out enjoying themselves, weekends and holidays and there's some pretty serious work to ensure boaties are keeping themselves and others safe.

Then there's the very sobering side to being a harbourmaster – when things all go tragically wrong.

"We have an assistance role to play when there has been an incident involving a serious injury or loss of life. We work with the Police and Maritime New Zealand wherever we are needed."

"We want everybody's experience to be positive. We don't want to have to be out there issuing infringements and waving a big stick, but more importantly, we want everybody to stay safe and come home."

In the last few years, Lyndon has directed his attention towards educating the younger boaties, with a school-based initiative teaching boating safety and the importance of lifejackets.

"You need to do more than going crook at the parents. Education is a big part of our work and the more we educate people, the less enforcement is required." 

Page reviewed: 12 Feb 2018 12:34pm