Marie Taylor, QSM


Plant Hawke's Bay

Marie Taylor was awarded a QSM in June 2020 for her work with Plant Hawke’s Bay as a advocate for native horticulture and revegetation. She reflects here on what has shaped her journey in life, to this point.

Where did I grow up?
On a sheep farm near Gore.

What key things from my childhood shaped who I am today?
My uncle, who was a prospecting geologist, and who worked in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Australia, was a key person who influenced me; also his mother, my grandmother, who was keenly interested in world history and politics.

I wanted to leave Southland, because I felt there were too many societal constraints put on people to conform to particular behaviours; and I didn’t like seeing how many rural women were unable to develop their own professional lives, putting their ambitions on hold to let the farm and their husbands take precedence. I wanted to make my own way in the world.

What did I want to be when I grew up?
I wasn’t sure, but I was always good at writing and biology. So, after going to Lincoln College for a horticultural science degree, I did a post graduate diploma in journalism at Canterbury University. That put together all the things I enjoyed at the time: writing about horticulture and farming.

After quite a few years of working as a rural journalist I developed RSI in my wrists and realised I wouldn’t be able to carry on writing for the rest of my working life. I always loved trees, had worked in a nursery as a student, and figured it would be a good business I could build from scratch, and it would give me satisfaction. And it built on what I’d learnt about the Hawke’s Bay landscape as I was working part time as a regional rep for the QEII National Trust.

What am I doing differently in my world that’s making the world a better place?
I like to take the 100-year view of a project and think about how we want the landscape to look in the future. What should it be like; what could it be like; how do we plan for that to happen?

Even though the Hawke’s Bay landscape has been given a pretty severe beating in the last 180 years by farmers, engineers and pests, it still contains lots of clues to how we can look after it better.

That idea is one of the reasons behind setting up the Hawke’s Bay Botanical Group in 2016. We organise trips to interesting, out-of-the-way places in the Bay to show people special parts of our landscape. We’ve got a great following, and we have a trip every couple of months (except for this year of course).

One of the things I feel really strongly about is that we have to look after our special landscapes, so we get better and enduring results.

What I mean by that is…our natural landscapes in Hawke’s Bay are over-run by pests: not just the predator species of possums, cats, and mustelids, but also feral deer, pigs, and goats. For example, in the last 20 years feral deer have spread right across the landscape and can be found almost everywhere.

And what this means is that we are losing these high-ecological value landscapes stick by stick every day, and it’s also happening very rapidly. So, the big challenge is to get wider recognition that we have to fence these browsing animals out of our bush remnants. It’s expensive, but if we don’t do it, we will lose all the biodiversity – the plants and animals – of those parts of the landscape that help define local areas.

I think we don’t value our landscapes enough yet, and we don’t recognise the costs of looking after them, and we need to help landowners more. For example, it seems outrageous to me that people are still allowed to cut down mature native trees for firewood. Trees hundreds of years old are disappearing from our landscapes really rapidly, and no-one is accountable. That kind of thing is criminal.

On the other hand, we should recognise and reward the landowners who are making a positive contribution to protection, and that should encourage more landowners to carry out more protection work.

How has my Collective Intelligence team helped/contributed to what I do and how I do it?
The late Ren Apatu got me into Collective Intelligence. I sat beside him at a Ballance Environmental Awards dinner in Napier, and he told me how this group had helped him. I figured if Collective Intelligence had helped Ren so much, then it would surely help me.

What have I learnt about diversity of thought and applying collective intelligence to my life?
We have a tremendous Collective Intelligence team in Hawke’s Bay, and a great facilitator in Sue Johnston. Everyone has a different perspective and appetite for change, and I really value hearing the different perspectives. I had thought there would be more of a focus on business, but really whatever we learn is applicable to business.

Apart from Collective Intelligence, a couple of other key things helped set me on my current track. The first was doing the Kellogg Rural Leaders course at Lincoln in 2000; the second was taking part in the NZI Rural Women NZ Business Awards.

The Kellogg course gave me a real boost and made me realise you don’t have to be the big noisy person up the front telling people what to do in order to make beneficial changes; that was a real revelation.

The NZI Rural Women Business Awards are amazing enablers too: I first took part in 2014, and won my section Love of the Land, and then in 2018 won that section again and the supreme award. It was such a good challenge, and I really encourage rural women with their own businesses to enter and benefit from the process.

And a final comment…
I’m very grateful to the people who nominated me for the QSM, and it’s a very humbling experience, and quite overwhelming really. The thing is, I’m only doing the things I really love.

The QSM has certainly given me a lot more confidence that what I do is valued by the wider community, and it has been really wonderful to find that out.

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