Forces for nature: Celebrating International Women’s Day (part four)

Lesley Neilson on a sailboat at Winter Cove, BC (Photo by Astrid Neilson-Miller)

Lesley Neilson on a sailboat at Winter Cove, BC (Photo by Astrid Neilson-Miller)

April 6, 2020 | by Wendy Ho

In celebration of International Women’s Day (March 8), we are profiling a few Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) friendly female faces from across the country. These women contribute to our mission and our work in different ways.

Lesley Neilson works as the communications manager for the British Columbia, where she translates conservation actions and impacts in to stories that resonate. She helps her regional team put their best foot forward when representing NCC, ensuring consistency, accuracy and interest in how we communicate our work.

Wendy Ho (WH): What keeps you motivated each day working for NCC?

Lesley Neilson (LN): It has always been important to me to do work that contributes to the good in the world. Being part of a team that directly and effectively protects the natural world is inherently motivating. On a day-to-day experiential level, the fact that I work with dedicated, kind, smart and interesting people also makes coming to work fairly easy. Believing in the mission is critical, but truly enjoying who I work with makes me stay.

WH: What is the biggest challenge you face as a communicator?

LN: The noise. Our world is over-saturated with information, opinion, propaganda, distractions, stories and chatter. With the rise of attention on the climate crisis and ecological loss, people today may be paying more attention to what we are doing to nature, but also may be at risk of feeling hopeless in the face of our challenges. How can we feel confident we are communicating clearly and inspiring action in as many people as possible? To paraphrase philosopher Jan Zwicky, we will never be able to reach everyone with our messages, and “no matter how loudly and fervently [we] speak, [we] are only heard by those who chose to listen.”

WH: Tell us about the most memorable NCC project since you started working here.

LN: There are so many that it’s difficult to pick just one. Each project comes alive as I learn about the unique stories that make it special. These might be about a community coming together to transform a degraded industrial site into a nature reserve, or about the wildlife that rely on the land for their ongoing survival, or about the cultural importance of a certain spot that dates back to time immemorial.

I have a few favourite stories that are also captured by short videos, such as the amazing makeover of the Campbell River Estuary, or a mid-summer trek along a ridgeline in Darkwoods, or the day I spent at the Sage and Sparrow Conservation Area helping band baby burrowing owls.

WH: Where do you see conservation communication heading in the next five years?

LN: Because of the increasing awareness and urgency of the climate crisis, I believe we must continue to show how conserving natural ecosystems (including the restoration of degraded sites) is a critical piece in the complex puzzle of how to build resiliency as we move into an uncertain — though certainly changing — ecological future. NCC has been talking about this for years, and I expect we will continue to make these connections and encourage an active appreciation for the huge role that conservation plays in offering climate solutions.

I am seeing a growing awareness of the need to expand the narrative around who cares about nature. Representation in communications is vitally important in terms of reflecting our understanding and expectations of the world we live in. For the conservation community to truly embrace and learn from the full scope of people who already do care deeply about the natural world, our communications must move to include diverse voices, worldviews, backgrounds and abilities.

WH: How do you make time to connect with nature when life gets busy?

LN: My dog makes sure I get out walking every day, regardless of whatever else might be on my human to-do list. I am fortunate to live just a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean, so on most days I head to the seashore. I train my sights away from the busy-ness of land, focusing instead on the smell of the salty air, the sound of the waves breaking on the rocky beach and colours of the ever-changing sky.

Wendy Ho (Photo by NCC)

About the Author

Wendy Ho is Nature Conservancy of Canada's editorial coordinator.

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