Ronda Green (chair WTA) interviews Lizzie Corke of the Conservation Ecology Centre

Lizzie Corke

The Conservation Ecology Centre in the Otway Ranges, Victoria, is an innovative not-for profit venture featuring research, conservation and education. Founders Lizzie Corke and Shayne Neal aim to make the Otway “once moire vibrant with wildlife” but also select projects that will benefit wildlife not just locally but nationally and globally.   Their Wildlife Wonders program, which will introduce visitors to the wildlife and wilderness of the Otways,  has attracted a grant of $1.5million from the state government.

Lizzie Corke will be a keynote speaker for the wildlife tourism conference in Tasmania in 2018.

Ronda Green (chair, Wildlife Tourism Australia) interviewed Lizzie about the centre:

What inspired you and Shayne to start the Conservation Ecology Centre in the Otway Ranges?

My passion for Australian wildlife started a long time ago – and a long way away! I was born in the UK into the midst of a family who love nature. I had a remarkable great aunt, Aunty Marge, who would take me for nature rambles through the North York Moors or the city parks of London – she saw nature everywhere, even if it was just a fallen leaf on a pavement, and she shared her sense of wonder with me. My family moved to Australia when I was six and Marge took it upon herself to fill me with fast facts on Australian wildlife before we left – she told me I had to learn as much as I could, so we could explore together in Australia when she came to visit. It was a special link which spanned generations and hemispheres and lifetimes.

Shayne grew up on a dairy farm near Timboon at the western end of the Otways. His dad is a keen birder and bird photographer and carried out landcare work on his farm long before there was such a movement – Shayne grew up doing conservation land management before he knew it had a name, understanding the importance of community and sustainable business in this, and exploring the Otways with his dad on a quest for the perfect bird photo.

Shayne and I met at school and he was the one who introduced me to the Otways. We both studied natural sciences at The University of Melbourne and always knew that the Otways was home. In 2000 we began the establishment of the Conservation Ecology Centre

What kinds of response have you had from local residents? Politicians? Tourists?

The Conservation Ecology Centre takes a collaborative approach, we work across both private and public land in both research and land management projects and partner with land management agencies, research institutions, NGOs and business. Despite being a very small organisation we have also developed a strong engagement program, sharing our work with our local and wider community – we deliver this in a number of ways and one of those is through ecotourism which, as a sustainable business model, also assists with funding. I think this overall collaborative and sharing approach helps contribute to good relationships with our local community, visitors to the region and all three levels of government.

Would you like to describe the Wildlife Wonders project?

Wildlife Wonders has grown from a proven model. CEC established the Great Ocean Ecolodge as a social enterprise in 2004, which is a five-room solar powered guesthouse alongside the Great Otway National Park. For nearly fourteen years we have been taking our ecolodge guests on a guided dusk walk to see the wildlife and learn about the Centre’s conservation programs and the feedback is outstanding.  Wildlife Wonders gives an opportunity to provide this special experience to many more visitors in a far more accessible location – a chance for visitors to experience the Australian bush accompanied by a conservationist, sharing special encounters with wild animals and having a chance to contribute to their future. It is an opportunity for us, as an organisation, to engage with a far bigger audience and generate a reliable source of funding which is vital for the Centre’s ever-expanding conservation programs.

Wildlife Wonders is located on the Great Ocean Road just outside Apollo Bay overlooking the ocean and the forests of the Otways. Visitors will walk among kangaroos lounging in native grasslands, koalas dozing in leafy woodlands, and pademelons, bandicoots, potoroos, wallabies foraging in the ferny gullies.  With creative direction by Brian Massey, Art Director of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ trilogies, it really will be spectacular.

What do you see as your major challenges over the next couple of years?

It’s a great question – current challenges include operating a growing conservation organisation while developing a major ecotourism venture! There are also so many aspects to consider and so many areas of expertise that are required and must be carefully integrated – all are critical to overall success. Luckily we have an extraordinary team and support network to keep things on track.

What have been the most rewarding aspects of the Centre?

The CEC operates extremely efficiently and the organisation is committed to work which brings about a positive impact. Our team is small but carries out extraordinary projects, sometimes delivering them seemingly out of thin air. I am proud of the partnerships we have developed and the organisation’s ability to think outside the box which sometimes leads to exceptional results.

What advice do you have for others trying to balance the needs of wildlife conservation, tourism and local residents?

I think my advice is to know your values and ensure these are embedded across all aspects of your organisation, to build relationships built on trust, to maintain open channels of communication and to find the common element.