At the heart of Wilderlands impact lies remarkable individuals, and at the forefront of that is our esteemed Lead Ecologist, Deanna Marshall.
In honour of International Day for Biological Diversity, we are showcasing Deanna’s remarkable contributions to the preservation of biodiversity spanning over 25 year career working with the Victorian Government and other statutory authorities and now leading all ecological work for Wilderlands.
To gain deeper insights into her unwavering passion for ecology and learn from her wealth of experiences, we had the privilege of interviewing Deanna as well as producing a mini-documentary detailing a day-in-the life working alongside our conservation partners Cassinia Environmental.
From a career in conservation and covenants to moving back to Country Victoria, nature has been a driving force for Deanna which is why she’s so passionate about protecting it.
I pursued a career in ecology because I’ve always been really interested in native plants and animals. I had a great childhood, in which I spent a lot of time outside absorbing the environment. I grew up in some beautiful natural areas, in the 70s outside of Healesville, surrounded by large areas of remnant forests. As a kid, my parents would send us outside and we were told to come back when you’re hungry. I remember having such wonderful freedom as a child in the bush with my brothers and the neighbour’s kids. I also attended a small primary school that was on the doorstep of the Healesville Sanctuary. We were lucky enough to have many excursions and even some classes in the Sanctuary. We spent a lot of time outside, building huts and observing all the animals in the creeks and just, spending good long days outside whether it was raining or sunny.
So that led me to want to learn more at university. During that time, I learnt more about what’s involved in different jobs and I discovered what I liked and that’s how it evolved. I finished university then I did honors in ecology and that really confirmed my interest in the field. Since then, I have worked for various state government organisations, but it wasn’t until I started working for the Victorian government in natural resources and environment that I learned about threatened species and their programs, that’s what really pipped my interest in threatened species. I’ve been working in ecology for probably over 25 years, for various different organisations, on programs with private landholders to conserve threatened species and ecological communities.
Deanna’s passion from a young age has propelled her long-spanning career, and it’s this vision that keeps her committed to protecting the environment.
The industry of ecology and the environment can be quite challenging at times, with all the threats our environment is enduring, it can be quite overwhelming. What keeps me motivated and engaged is that if we don’t keep making efforts to restore and protect the environment we will continue to lose biodiversity. I’ve seen some pretty drastic changes in terms of biodiversity loss during my career. It does affect you and it can be hard to stay motivated. But we have an amazing core group of like-minded people that share the same passion for the environment, and they keep you going because they want to make a difference too.
A lot of the landowners that we work with are incredible. Their observations in their lifetimes, particularly some of the farmers I’ve worked with want to help stop the decline in biodiversity that they’ve seen since their forefathers and that they’ve noticed since childhood. Working with landowners that are like-minded and that genuinely care about the environment is very rewarding, so that has kept me going.
Her journey with Wilderlands began only 7 months ago but she’s immersed herself into our projects from the get-go.
I’ve been with Wilderlands for about seven months, and I have had a few favourite ecological finds. The Coorong Lakes project is amazing in that some of the plants are new to me, it’s so interesting, as it’s such a diverse and floristically rich project.
One of my favourite plants, it’s not even a rare plant, is the Native Currant, Acrotriche depressa. It has these really funky leaves, I look at it and go, oh it’s just so pretty. It’s very eye-catching and unique looking, it is known for its edible fruit so I am very much looking forward to spring so I can try it out.
Being an ecologist isn’t just about being in the field, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into monitoring and reporting for biodiversity.
When I’m not in the field surveying projects I am working with our major partner, Cassinia Environmental who manages the properties, to discuss our data and on-ground works programs. I am also keeping up to date with the taxonomy and legislation in each state. Each state has separate legislation that determines the status of some of the species, whether they’re threatened or not. Day-to-day I am also reviewing the gathered data. We’ve got camera traps set out on the properties, which captures data 24/7, so I’m filtering through those, filing the pictures and noting how often we are seeing what we find. I’m also writing management plans for the projects at the moment, and so I go through flurries of activity working on those. I talk to a lot of my colleagues and peers about methodologies and how AI can assist with our data. And plenty of spring planning is underway where we will be required to be everywhere all at once!
Some of the more challenging vegetation types for me are the Samphire Shrublands that we have on the Coorong Lakes Project. These plants superficially look quite similar. So I’m gathering key identification resources so that next time we are surveying it will be a bit easier for us.
In recent years Australia has been confronted with weather extremes and biodiversity has struggled to recover.
Over the past 12 years in Victoria, we have experienced horrific wildfires and three severe flooding events. This is not normal and it is very frightening to think of how Climate Change is going to continue to push us and nature to the brink.
The devastating bushfires that Australia recently had on the southeastern coast were really hard to comprehend, it was quite apocalyptic. I was holidaying at the time where that whole area around Jervis Bay, NSW was on fire, it was so surreal and I felt just so sad. I felt devastated about what was happening. It caused all of our wildlife to be pushed to the brink of extinction in terms of the habitat that’s left for them. The feeling of helplessness was very strong, not only in our ecological and conservation community, but the broader community. Australia is adapted to fire, and indeed fire is needed in many of our plant communities for them to regenerate, but not this kind of fire. So that goes back to saying how it’s really important that we all work together and stay strong to affect change where it’s needed.
Our Budgerum project site was underwater for many months. Humans have altered the hydrology around our natural floodplains so that now water can’t flow naturally across them, it gets banked up and sits on the properties. This is devastating for the native plants and animals that reside there. Many of the plants drowned and the lizard and small mammal populations declined significantly.
Wilderlands has committed to protecting biodiversity – forever.
The most important thing about the Wilderlands methodology to me is that it’s all about permanent protection. There is legislation in most Australian states that means that you can protect biodiversity under a conservation covenant. Once we commit to permanently protecting land we make sure that we’re maintaining and improving biodiversity on those sites. I also love the fact that Wilderlands makes biodiversity protection extremely accessible and easy for anyone, as an individual, you can make a difference at such a small price by purchasing your own BDU!
Wilderlands only launched last August, and so at the moment the four projects that we have, are owned by Cassinia Environmental. Currently, they are our main conservation partner, they own and manage the land for the four project sites Wilderlands offers.
Actions need to be taken to avoid biodiversity extinction.
The government needs to take biodiversity loss more seriously through more commitment and investment. We are one of the world’s megadiverse countries. We have such unique plants, animals and ecosystems, we need to value them more. Wilderlands is in a really wonderful position to achieve investment from organisations and individuals who want to help protect and restore biodiversity.
Deanna reminds us of the power we all have to make a difference, no matter how small and even from home.
There are so many actions that people can do to help protect biodiversity in their own neighbourhoods. Keep your cats inside, and dogs on leads in natural areas, put up nest boxes, and grow native plants in your area. You can also plant diverse native plants in your garden to draw in biodiversity, this will help attract insect species and in turn more wildlife. Even a small garden can have an important impact on boosting biodiversity in your local area.
Optimism is key to the success of restoring biodiversity across the planet. Deanna reminds us that the unified spirit to keep moving forward is what will help us achieve the lasting results that the planet needs.
There is optimism in biodiversity, if there wasn’t we wouldn’t be here doing what we do. We have to be optimistic, we have to believe that we can make a difference. Giving up just is not an option, it doesn’t even come into the psyche of the people that I work with. We have to keep trying as we know every contribution counts.
Sometimes it can take twenty years to see the fruition of all your hard conservation efforts, but you just have to keep going and celebrating all the small wins that your efforts bring. Whether that’s a rare small plant that’s germinated in the field or another larger site that you’ve been able to protect, or working with wonderful land managers to conserve what they have, it’s all worth it.
Deanna leaves us with a key message, we need to stay connected with nature to save it.
I think every individual needs to get out into nature, as it really enriches our lives. Human well-being is all centred around our relationship with nature. It’s critical for us to have clean air, water and sunlight. So my advice would be to hop outside and embrace it.
Deanna’s unwavering dedication to the preservation, protection, and restoration of Australian wildlife exemplifies the core values driving the Wilderlands mission. Her profound passion for nurturing biodiversity lies at the very heart of our organisation. We find inspiration in her tireless efforts, which fuel our ongoing pursuit of knowledge during our ecology excursions. If you share our enthusiasm for safeguarding biodiversity and wish to contribute, we invite you to embark on your own journey by clicking the link below. Together, we can make a difference in preserving the natural world.