A Lifetime of Landcare

In our 25th anniversary year we are featuring the stories of people who began the grassroots Landcare movement that helped contribute to the formation of Landcare Tasmania in 1994

Meet Phil Watson - surf, bushwalking, cycling and Landcare

20190321_Phil_Watson.jpgA lifetime enjoying the outdoors has focused Phil Watson on his ongoing environmental journey.

Chasing surf, bushwalking on untracked environments, cycling more than half a million kilometres and ocean swimming are pastimes that generated his passion for the land, coast and sea.

His earth science degree, teaching young adults about horticulture, travelling and working overseas before returning to his home State of Tasmania were all part of shaping his community involvement.

Phil has worked for three decades with the Clarence City Council in a diversity of roles including managing the parks workforce and the Landcare and Coastcare Group Network as well as developing more than 25 Coast and Bush Reserve Activity Plans.

He was innovative in the space of community engagement, volunteering and bringing Landcare group members along with him in recognising and protecting the natural values within their bush and coastal reserves as well as on private properties.

Between 1989 and 2010 he set up and supported more than 25 Landcare groups in the Clarence municipality and established the Clarence Land and Coast care Network Inc. and worked with all the groups for 20 years on his weekend days. Following the development in 1989 of the innovative and national award-winning Waverley Flora Park Management Plan, he facilitated the convening of what is possibly the first Landcare Group in Tasmania. That said, Phil’s own Mt Rumney Landcare Group which he re-convened in 1992, was active under the banner of a serrated tussock management group from 1970s. He is still the Convenor.

Phil received a Landcare Tasmania individual award in 1992, was runner up in 1993 and won the Tasmanian Local Government Award in 1992 and 1993, a year or two before today’s Landcare Tasmania organisation was established in 1994. The precursor body was then a State Government-run Landcare Tasmania organisation.

He won a Local Government Citizen of the Year Award in the late 1990s and his work and passion for success earned him a Churchill Fellowship. In 1998 he went to the UK and USA looking at conservation volunteers to advance knowledge on best practice management and education of Landcare Groups and their volunteers Australia-wide.

“That was a defining experience,” says Phil, whose report was well received and disseminated by the then Federal Environment Minister, Penny Wong.

The unique Clarence Landcare and Coastcare Network Inc. involved all the group convenors working in partnership to further Landcare in Clarence. The network strengthened in the 1990s and was awarded National Landcare Program funding. Combined with Council’s and groups’ in-kind support, the funding delivered a $1 million Project over three years focused on bushland and coastal reserve rehabilitation and enhancement activities.

Phil sees community engagement as the most important part of what he has done.

“That leads to increasing the knowledge base for the community to make good decisions and hence accept a shared responsibility for protecting the natural values of their own land and their nearby bushland and coastal reserves.”

Far from retiring, Phil continues his work with Clarence City Council, which has moved from him being the only person working in the environment area to employing a large team.

He enjoys his family – including grandchildren – and in his ‘spare time’ kayaks, plays tennis, has an extensive organic vegetable garden and writes amusing and interesting articles for scientific and nature publications. He is active in leading lots of interpretive walks and extended bush walks through 300 kms of tracks and trails in the municipality where a kayak trail has just been introduced.

“I am enjoying interacting with the large network of environmentally–aware folks that I have built up. It is a nice feeling to mentor young graduates just staring out on their environmental journeys. Now I am seeking to drop back to part-time to pursue my many other interests, but at this stage retiring is not on the agenda,” says Phil.