‘It’s been a great region to work in’

    Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips is retiring today after a decade in the role. Photo: File

    AFTER 10 years serving as chief executive at Environment Southland (ES), Rob Phillips says he is humbled and honoured to have worked for the Southland community.

    Serving for two terms as chief executive, Mr Phillips said it was a hard decision to make to retire from the organisation, though he is proud of the work he has been a part of and has a positive outlook for the future of ES.

    He said some highlights of his time with the organisation included the 2016 successful search and destroy operation of Velvetleaf pest plants, and working through 2020’s record-breaking floods, which saw the Mataura River largely kept within its stopbanks — ‘‘a testa
    ment to previous councils, catchment boards and our staff’’.

    ‘‘And now we’re lucky enough to get some government money, some climate resilience money, to do some better work on those areas and build some better resilience.’’

    Central Government announced last week changes to the winter grazing regulations, changes Mr Phillips said had been influenced by the work of ES in collaboration with industry leaders, farmers, and other parties throughout the region.

    ‘‘It’s been a great region to work in. Water and land underpin our whole economy and lifestyle here, and we’ve got a responsibility for that. We’ve had some challenges and we’ve brought those challenges to the fore, we’ve vested a lot of science so we’re making our very conscious decisions based on science and information.’’

    An ongoing focus throughout his time at ES was addressing water quality challenges, and he said it took a lot of hard work to develop the proposed Southland Water and Land Plan, which uses a region-wide, mountains to sea approach.

    ‘‘We’ve responded to subsequent national direction, further raising the bar, using scientific data and community input to inform the next plan. This work is ongoing and I’m comfortable that it’s on a good track.’’

    He said ES’s partnership with mana whenua had gone from strength to strength, and being one of the first councils in the country to weave community and iwi values and objectives for freshwater was an amazing achievement.

    ‘‘Recently, councillors appointed four mana whenua representatives to two of our standing committees, which will strengthen our governance.’’

    While proud of what he had been involved in throughout the years, he maintained there was still room for improvement in the lower catchments and estuaries, reducing the environmental footprint and level of contaminants.

    ‘‘There’s no buts about it, we’ve got to do that but we’re also conscious of the need to do it in a way which maintains the whole Southland community.

    ‘‘The change needs to be driven by our community and these aren’t things you can simply use regulations for.’’

    Mr Phillips felt very humbled to have been able to work in Southland with an organisation of talented people with a great sense of purpose and community connections.

    ‘‘All the councillors in my time have been very supportive and great people to work with, I want to acknowledge and thank everyone for that.’’

    Mr Phillips will continue with his governance roles as co-chair of the BioHeritage Challenge and as the ES-appointed representative on the board of Predator Free Rakiura, while also
    spending time fly fishing, tramping, and travelling.

    Wilma Falconer is acting chief executive while recruitment for a replacement continues.