Adding conservation to summer school in Albany, WA

on 01 Feb 2017 

For 57 years now the City of Albany on the South Coast of WA has been running an annual Summer School through the first fortnight in January. This summer more than 750 people took advantage, to learn something new through the Summer School's offerings, which included 'Courses in fine arts, crafts, music, drama, writing, the local environment, cooking, gardens, hobby activities and personal development presented by high-calibre tutors'. 

I was invited by the organisers to run a course on conservation titled 'Living in Nature: Conservation Challenges in the Global Biodiversity Hotspot of South-western Australia'. With the opportunity to design and run a course, I told the 13 participants that we would explore territory they probably hadn't anticipated when they signed up, and I don't think they were disappointed. 

Our first afternoon focused on humankind's relationship with the rest of nature through time. We looked at:

  • our evolution on the savannahs of East Africa, and the way that still influences our landscape preferences,
  • the influence of different cosmologies and religions on attitudes to nature,
  • the walled Persian/paradise gardens that influenced garden design right through to Versailles before the English Landscape Gardens of Capability Brown as influenced by attitudes from the Far East and the early Renaissance paintings of Claude Lorrain and Nicholas Poussin,
  • America and Frederick Law Olmsted and Central Park, John Muir and the wilderness movement and the first National Parks,
  • American nature and environment writing (Muir, Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez, etc.),
  • nature photography starting with Ansel Adams, and through to Jared Diamond, E O Wilson and co and the birth of modern conservation biology and landscape ecology from the 1960s on. 

The second afternoon we covered core conservation theory and principles, with particular focus on island biogeography theory in the 1960s, and developments in theory and practice since then. We also spent some time looking at 'design with nature', focused on the work of design practitioners including Ian McHarg, John Tillman Lyle, Robert Thayer, Joan Nassauer, some of my landscape colleagues in New Zealand, and examples of some of my own design work in protected areas in New Zealand and elsewhere.  

A presentation by Department of Parks and Wildlife Regional Ecologist Sarah Comer demonstrated practical application of theory and principles in a range of current fauna conservation projects across the South Coast.

Our third afternoon continued the focus on the global biodiversity hotspot of SW Australia, the challenges it faces, and measures being implemented to address those, with special emphasis on our connectivity work in Gondwana Link

The course concluded with a full-day field trip out to our Red Moort and Monjebup reserves in Gondwana Link, finishing with a visit to our partners Bill and Jane Thompson at Yarraweyah Falls. It was  tired but happy busload that arrived back in Albany late on the Thursday afternoon. 

Feedback indicates that the course was greatly appreciated as an addition to the annual Summer School offerings, at the same time providing us an opportunity to showcase our own work and the contribution we're making here on the South Coast.