Am­bas­sadors for truth

Field & Game Aus­tralia has launched a cam­paign to tell the true story of Aus­tralia's most sur­prising con­ser­va­tion­ists and we have set up a fight­ing fund to help spread the mes­sage. Meet the first two am­bas­sadors, Deb Meester and Ben Richards.

Field and Game - - NEWS -

Deb Meester Sale Field & Game Deb was in­tro­duced to hunt­ing about 20 years ago by her for­mer part­ner and the at­trac­tion re­mains the same is it was back then: good com­pany, good wild food and qual­ity time spent in the great out­doors. "He taught me how to shoot and I loved it, I got in­volved in the clay tar­get com­pe­ti­tions as well."

Hunt­ing is about be­ing out in the en­vi­ron­ment which I love and at least I'm putting food on the ta­ble rather than choos­ing it from the su­per­mar­ket, it Is wild meat and I know where it comes from."

Deb's open­ing week­end camp spans the ages, the youngest is 12 and the old­est is 80.

Her day job is work­ing as a nurse in an op­er­at­ing the­atre and she ad­mits hav­ing to ex­plain her hunt­ing pas­sion to col­leagues. "Some ducks from last year I had made into ca­bana. I took it into work for morn­ing tea and every­one was sur­prised how well it tasted."

Some peo­ple say why do you do that, go out and hunt, but I'm just get­ting my food from the wild."

While a pas­sion­ate and reg­u­lar hunter in sea­son, Deb also spends a lot of time and en­ergy on con­ser­va­tion pro­jects. "I've worked with Field & Game do­ing nest­ing boxes on Lake Wellington, it is a so­cial event, we all pile into boats and pull out the old straw and bro­ken eggs and re­place it with new straw ready for the next breed­ing sea­son.

I go on fox drives with FGA where we con­trol ver­min and I have done a lot of reveg­e­ta­tion at the Heart Mo­rass, we have planted many trees there. It is all about be­ing in the en­vi­ron­ment for me.

Some­times you just sit there and watch the birds in their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, you see how they in­ter­act and lis­ten to them call­ing."

Deb said she rel­ishes the op­por­tu­nity to chal­lenge the per­cep­tion of hunters. "The big­gest one is that hunters are red­necks who want to go and shoot things, nearly every­one I know has been in­volved in con­ser­va­tion work be­cause we want to pro­tect what we have and pre­serve it for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

I go out hunt­ing as of­ten as I can, we eat a lot of it and put the rest in the freezer to get through the re­main­der of the year, there are so many ways to cook it.

My hope is that peo­ple get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what it means to go and get your own din­ner. It is a long time since that was a ne­ces­sity and I think par­tic­u­larly peo­ple in the city miss that op­por­tu­nity and don't un­der­stand it.

Our story needs to be put out there, we are le­gal firearm own­ers do­ing the right thing."

Ben Richards Port Phillip Field & Game For Ben, in­volve­ment with Field & Game Aus­tralia started when he was 12 years old and his tra­jec­tory in the or­gan­i­sa­tion is a fa­mil­iar one.

"Dad has been a mem­ber since the 1980s and for me early on it was about sup­port­ing an as­so­ci­a­tion that sup­ports duck hunt­ing, we never shot clay tar­gets or got heav­ily in­volved," he said.

"We al­ways went to the duck fever nights, they are a big thing for the duck hunt­ing side of the branches."

Ben Richards had al­ways made the con­nec­tion be­tween con­ser­va­tion and hunt­ing but like many mem­bers, he had watched the slow but steady de­cline of State Game Re­serves.

"The State Game Re­serve sys­tem was set up by Gov­ern­ment in part­ner­ship with hunters and our fees funded the es­tab­lish­ment and con­ser­va­tion of wet­lands, but over the years the li­cence fees have been ab­sorbed into gen­eral rev­enue and the wet­lands have been ne­glected," he said.

The de­ci­sion by FGA to pur­chase a de­graded but sig­nif­i­cant site in Gipp­s­land through the WET Trust gave Ben a glimpse of a brighter fu­ture.

"When the Heart Mo­rass project came up I got more heav­ily in­volved and more re­cently I've been more in­volved at branch level with Port Phillip where I be­came con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cer. Heart Mo­rass was the op­por­tu­nity to have a pri­vate sys­tem con­trolled by Field & Game that we knew would get the at­ten­tion it de­served. It is a pre­mier con­ser­va­tion project in our name and un­der our con­trol."

In­ter­est­ingly, Ben never in­tended to hunt on Heart Mo­rass, he was more in­ter­ested in the op­por­tu­nity to help turn de­graded farm­land into a wet­land par­adise.

"It was al­ways purely about con­ser­va­tion val­ues for me," he said.

"It is as­tound­ing to look at what is there now, I feel very sat­is­fied to have been a part of its cre­ation, and that also en­cour­ages me to be a part of fu­ture pro­jects.

I'm of­ten talk­ing to peo­ple about how hunters play an im­por­tant part in con­ser­va­tion around the world; hunters are the big­gest drivers of con­ser­va­tion, it comes back to giv­ing wildlife and wet­lands a value and no­body val­ues a swamp or wet­land like hunters do."

What is the value? Ben sums that up by re­flect­ing on some of his best ex­pe­ri­ences in wet­land en­vi­ron­ments — none of which in­volve ac­tual hunt­ing.

"This is the dif­fer­ence be­tween hunt­ing and shoot­ing, we are den­i­grated as shoot­ers but for most hunters that is a very small pro­por­tion of the time we spend out in the en­vi­ron­ment."

"My best mem­o­ries are about stand­ing 20 me­tres from my fa­ther watch­ing a pair of platy­pus be­tween us play­ing in our de­coys.

I have had heron land on the de­coy spread I've been sit­ting in, so many sun­rises and sun­sets and storms. This year we were down the Gipp­s­land Lakes and had dol­phins swim­ming around us."

It was al­ways fa­ther and son ad­ven­tures but lately Ben's mum has been join­ing in and this year his daugh­ter went hunt­ing for the first time.

"Time spent qui­etly in the bush is some­thing money can't buy," he said.

"I'm pleased to see FGA get­ting the mes­sage out there about con­ser­va­tion — we are a con­ser­va­tion and hunt­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion.

I find it very dif­fi­cult to give any credit to the anti-hunt­ing peo­ple who do zero to con­serve wet­lands or sup­port the creatures in that habi­tat

The work we do is driven by ducks but all species ben­e­fit, the whole en­vi­ron­ment ben­e­fits from the work we do."

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