Bringing Biodiversity Back: an interview with Squawk Squad
Meet Owain John, Squawk Squad’s Conservation Week Lead. Somehow, even in the height of New Zealand Conservation Week, he managed to squeeze us in for a conversation on biodiversity loss and great CSR as the Squawk Squad team sees it. Here, we talk a little about Squawk Squad’s journey, the movement to save New Zealand’s birds, and the importance of getting Kiwi businesses behind the movement.
Tell us about Squawk Squad…
Sure! Squawk Squad is a social enterprise that funds pest traps in three conservation areas around New Zealand. People who support us fund traps as a collective and then they receive real-time information on the number of pests they’re trapping. We can’t have diverse birdlife in New Zealand without freeing the country first of its pests, and so that’s where we’re helping out in the wider Predator-Free 2050 movement.
How do the traps work?
The traps humanely kill pests that harm our birdlife, so they mostly catch stoats, possums, rats and weasels. They’re unique in that they only need to be reset every 20 times they go off because they’re gas-powered. This means they’re really efficient, which is critical because traditional traps need to be reset every time a pest is caught - which you can imagine in the backcountry isn’t very effective! Once they’ve gone off 20 times, they’re cleared by volunteer networks we partner with and other groups like the Department of Conservation (DOC).
What’s your role in the big picture?
I’m the Conservation Week Lead, which means I’ve been pulling together our education packs for schools and getting VR kits out to 45,000 kids this year! This Conservation Week, primary school aged students will follow ‘Squawk', a young robin, through his journey along New Zealand’s forest floor and learn about the importance of conservation efforts in saving our country’s birds (see the video below to meet Squawk). My role has involved finding sponsorship, recruiting teachers, promoting Conservation Week itself, and being on the ground this week to help make sure the VR kits are working properly!
Isn’t it true you’ve also been dressing up as a kiwi?
I’ve been playing chief mascot too I guess! To promote Conservation Week we wanted to create some interesting videos, and so Fraser (one of the co-founders) and I dressed up as a kiwi and a stoat and battled it out on camera.
Can you tell us about how Squawk Squad got started?
It started out of a realisation that New Zealand’s birds are in crisis. At least 56 species have already gone extinct since humans first arrived in New Zealand, and that’s just the species we know of. Many more yet are endangered. Squawk Squad helps Kiwis who want to see a tangible impact in their conservation efforts to change this picture.
How does Squawk Squad fund itself?
We’re super transparent about our funding model - so 85% of what a person gives goes directly to the hardware to operate the pest trap, and 15% covers our overheads as an organisation.
What's the biggest challenge facing your work?
It’s an awareness thing - people don’t realise how many birds are killed each year, and so we have to work to change that. It takes engaging people in the conversation, and that’s why it’s so important we promote weeks like this. Especially engaging with kids because they’re the future of this movement, and they’re also the ones who will go and tell their parents why it’s important we take this work seriously.
Do you think businesses in New Zealand are backing this movement?
Many are, but there’s always more that can be done! Businesses play such a huge role in society and so we do need them on board. Our major sponsors for this Conservation Week are the DOC, Ngāi Tahu, Genesis and their partners at Whio Forever, Christchurch City Council, and Method Digital, who helped us to create the VR experience and bring Squawk’s Journey to life.
What are some CSR programmes do you admire?
I love what Kiwi Bank and DOC have done with the Conservation Dogs Programme. Work like that is so critical for making New Zealand predator-free, so any work like that I really admire. What Genesis has done their Whio Forever programme is also really great - they’re actively working to save the whio from extinction and championing conservation efforts to achieve this. That sort of ownership of a problem is really powerful.
Any advice for businesses wanting to improve their conservation efforts?
It’s important to find projects that align with what you do as a business. If you’re a farmer and you know that there’s runoff going into your local rivers, then not only should you look for ways to mitigate that, but you should think about partnering with local restoration projects in the area too.
The other piece of advice I have for businesses is to take community impact seriously. I know a lot of young people, myself included, who have left jobs because we couldn’t see a tangible way that we were having a positive impact. It’s only becoming more important to the next generation, and so if you can find meaningful ways to contribute to society, it’s natural that great talent will come your way.
Any goals for the future of Squawk Squad?
We’re going to keep promoting Conservation Week each year, and we’re going to keep expanding our pest-trapping efforts! We’re also really excited to start exploring how we can use sound clips from the forest floor to help measure biodiversity in New Zealand. While as a country we’re leading a world-first movement to become predator-free, we’re not very good at measuring how many birds we’re saving with our efforts. We’re hoping to harness that technology and help New Zealand realise the improvements its making as we get closer to 2050. Stay tuned!
Think that the CSR programmes Genesis and Kiwibank have setup sound important? Want to set something similar up with your own company? Our consulting programme helps teams of any size develop robust CSR strategies and to find relevant community partners to support. For more information, you can always contact our team and request an info pack! Otherwise, to stay in touch with our pals at Squawk Squad - we highly recommend following their Facebook page for more videos featuring Squawk and their Chief Mascot! You can also reach out to their team or fund a trap of your own via their website, squawksquad.co.nz.