Amber Cayley and Samuel Salisbury have taken on the mantle of co-leaders for the new Taranaki Forest & Bird Youth hub. They are splitting the responsibilities for this role between them and have plans to develop and expand the Youth Network in New Plymouth and the wider Taranaki region. We chat to these young conservationists about their whakapapa, nature and their vision for the hub.
What’s your story? What’s your whakapapa and what has your life journey been?
AMBER: I was born in New Plymouth, Taranaki, but I whakapapa back to the United Kingdom, Ireland and South Africa. Aotearoa is definitely where I am rooted – with its unique environmental landscape and biodiversity – it is a big part of who I am. Fueled by a passion for te taiao, my life journey has been a blend of adventure, community service, and environmental activism. I enjoy activities outdoors such as tramping, kayaking, rafting, skiing and camping, but also love getting involved in my community and the performing arts.
SAMUEL: Kia ora! My name is Samuel Salisbury, and I am a Year 13 student at New Plymouth Boys High School. I have always loved the environment, in particular the native fauna we have here in Aotearoa. From a young age I have been involved in environmental projects alongside my family, including trapping, plantings and working bees in many key conservation areas around Taranaki. In 2019 I was lucky enough to take part in the Youth Ambassador programme at Lake Rotokare in Eltham, Taranaki, where over two years I fostered my love for the environment alongside youth of similar passions. In August 2023 I participated in the Blake INSPIRE programme, which motivated me to get more involved in efforts to support the environment around Taranaki.
What is your first memory of nature? How did you first get involved with environmental work?
SAMUEL: My first memory of nature was around 13 years ago, when I was four years old, on Parapara beach in Golden Bay. My dad, brother, and I had dug a large hole the day before on the beach, and the very next morning upon investigation of the hole, we found a small kororā little blue penguin which had fallen in and couldn’t get out. It was soon rescued, and the hole filled in. My family has always been keen to help out in the community, so any opportunity which involved checking traps or other various activities was right up our alley.
AMBER: I have basically grown up in nature, with my earliest memories being those of hiking on Mount Taranaki, searching the rock pools at the beach and paddling in the ocean. The mountain in particular served as the setting of my childhood with a rock-hard mattress and long-drop not being an uncommon way for me to spend my weekend nights. Growing up alongside our taiao I formed a connection with the natural world and sought to protect it. I watched all the episodes of Young Ocean Explorers and took my friends on trips around our primary school to pick up rubbish but the first time I truly got involved with environmental work was when I joined the Rotokare Youth Ambassador Programme at Rotokare Scenic Reserve.
When did Forest & Bird Youth enter your radar? When did you become a Forest & Bird Youth Hub Leader?
AMBER: Forest & Bird was something I often heard about, but it wasn’t until I went to BLAKE Inspire in April 2023 and met Nate Wilbourne that I learnt about Forest & Bird Youth. As someone who is always keen to take up or create opportunities, especially when it relates to our environment, I readily jumped on the idea of starting a youth hub in Taranaki and I have recently become a Forest & Bird Youth Hub Leader.
SAMUEL: I only came across Forest & Bird Youth last year, when my parents signed me up as a birthday present. As a new member I was keen to get to work with like-minded youth in Taranaki, so when I found out there was no Youth Hub in Taranaki, I set out to start one.
You are both founding members of the new F&B Youth Taranaki Hub – what is your vision for it?
SAMUEL: I hope to create a place where like-minded rangatahi can come and develop their love of conservation and the environment through expressing their ideas and thoughts on what Taranaki, and Aotearoa, can do to protect our environment and ensure all the natural wonders we see today can be experienced by future generations. I also hope to inspire younger generations to act on big issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss through connecting them to the hub and other youth in Taranaki. Whether this involves small days out helping plant native trees, beach clean ups or larger projects, I hope it will be a place where youth in Taranaki can make a difference.
AMBER: My vision for the Forest & Bird Youth Taranaki hub is to create a community where rangatahi can connect with nature, with each other, and with community to bring about positive change in the environmental space, coming together as one strong voice for the environment in Taranaki and New Zealand. From water testing and riparian planting to tree plantings and trapping there are many practical projects we plan to kickstart, but the hub will also advocate and inform, and we are keen to connect with schools in the region to inspire environmental activism in other rangatahi. Overall, my vision of the Forest & Bird Youth Taranaki hub is a community of advocacy, action, and change.
What do you think is the biggest environmental priority for rangatahi young people today?
AMBER: Plastic pollution, biodiversity loss, global warming, the list of pressing environmental issues goes on, they all need to be acted on and it can often get overwhelming. In my opinion the biggest environmental priority for rangatahi today is local action. This may seem subordinate to overarching issues such as climate change but as rangatahi it can be hard to know where to start with environmental activism. Focusing on local environmental issues is both achievable and amounts to huge positive change in the long run.
SAMUEL: I believe one of the biggest priorities for young people is protecting our biodiversity. Aotearoa in particular has some truly unique and special fauna and flora which is constantly threatened by pests and diseases. Protecting our native animals and trees by educating people, especially future generations, is essential to allow for our threatened species to recover and thrive. If we lose these there is no way to get them back, making it imperative that we protect these wonderful slices of nature as much as we can.
What have been your personal challenges in environment and sustainability as a rangatahi young person?
SAMUEL: One of the biggest challenges I have faced as a young person has been connecting with like-minded rangatahi in Taranaki. The opportunities I have had through Lake Rotokare and the Blake Foundation have been amazing. Being able to converse with other students who are just as passionate as me and discuss the challenges the environment has and will face is truly inspiring. However, Taranaki has very little opportunities for teenagers and youth to collaborate and put their heads together to tackle and educate ourselves and others about environmental challenges the world faces. Having the opportunity to change this is extremely exciting, and allows future generations to have a head start when it comes to thinking and dealing with these issues.
AMBER: As a rangatahi passionate about creating change in the environmental sector, I have sometimes felt alienated and separate from the teenagers around me who are passionate about shopping and consumerism. People are not always going to care about the same stuff as you, and sometimes there will be no one around you who has as much passion as you do, but if you truly care about what you are doing that will just make you more motivated to make a difference in that space for you and all the people that don’t care. Part of my motivation behind starting a Forest & Bird Youth Taranaki hub is to bring together rangatahi who have the same passion for the protection of our taiao so we can all make change together instead of by ourselves.
Join Forest & Bird Youth
Forest & Bird Youth is a nationwide network of young people (aged 14-25) who are protecting and restoring Aotearoa's wildlife and wild places. Join this nationwide community and get involved in opportunities, events, competitions and more. This is also a space to support you in your involvement and journey within the network. Grow as a leader, a volunteer, and as a conservationist.
This article first appeared in the February 2024 E-news.