Mark Holdsworth

Mark’s dedication to bird conservation is both professional and personal, and saw him nominated as one of four Tasmanians for Australian of the Year in 2014. Previously a a Senior Bird Conservation Officer for the Tasmanian Government, we are proud to have him as part of our guiding team. This is what he has to say about his passion for birds:

“I can’t really say when my interest in birds first started, but definitely by the time I was 15. Before I started working in conservation I was interested in bird watching. Birds are everywhere, anywhere you go in the world, you’ll find a bird, and no matter what time of the day or night you’re there. Birds give character to places; colour and sound; every landscape we visit or live in has birds and you either see them or hear them.”

“I started as a trainee ranger with the National Parks and Wildlife Service back in 1979; I then graduated to a Parks and Wildlife Service Ranger, where I worked for a number of years.” (He’s worked in National Parks all around the state, including Cradle Mountain, Maria Island and Freycinet.) “Even though the parks were lovely to live and work in, I had a burning desire to work in conservation and wildlife management. In the late 80s I moved ... to the Wildlife section as a Wildlife Management Officer.” From that point Mark’s career in conservation grew and the conservation of the Orange-bellied Parrot (OBP) became a core part of his job.

“I first worked with Peter Brown, now retired, on the Orange-bellied Parrot, and over the years gradually took on more responsibility, both in the wild and captive breeding programs. Working with Peter was vital to learn the ropes and ensure the program maintained some continuity." The orange bellied parrot is a critically endangered species. “Up until about 6-7 years ago we were confident there were up to 150 individuals but there has been a dramatic decline, possibly due to drought on themainland, which has affected their reproductive capacity. The last couple of years we’ve seen the wild population slowly increasing, so there’s been a gradual improvement. The quick action of the department on the advice of the National Recovery Team, combined with invaluable funding support from the State and Commonwealth governments were critical factors to start to turn things around for the OBP”.

The Orange-bellied Parrot is an obligate migratory species, moving to the mainland during the winter where it spends time in both Victoria and South Australia, but it only breeds in south-west Tassie. There’s now a focus on captive breeding to build up the parrot population so there are enough birds to release into the wild to bolster the small wild population. Currently there are about 260 individuals in captivity – with 2012 being a bumper year, seeing nearly double the reproductive success of previous years. Captive management staff who work with these parrots also look after captive Tasmanian Devils. They are a group of highly skilled people. “It is important to have a high level of professionalism and skill in the captive-breeding programs.  There are big risks if you don’t have highly skilled, passionate people. It was hard work; there are a lot of tedious tasks – cleaning cages and daily feeding routines – so you need people with passion and commitment to keep things going in the right direction”.  

Apart from the Orange-bellied parrot, Mark has worked with most Tasmanian animals, particularly threatened species such as the Tasmanian Devil, Swift parrots and the Forty-spotted pardalote. “You name it, I’ve worked with it in various ways.”Away from Tasmania and outside work Mark has used the skills he’s built up over the years to help other declining bird species. “The Australian of the Year nomination recognises my work from elsewhere. I’ve done a lot of work on Christmas Island looking after the Christmas Island Goshawk, an endangered bird of prey.” Mark also helps out on feral cat control programs on the mainland, to look at bird diversity and is involved in various capacities in non-government organisations such as BirdLife Australia, Australasian Raptor Association and Tasmania’s Wildcare.

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Much of the above has been taken from an article on Mark's nomination for Australian of The Year, by the CPSU. You can read the complete article here. Mark's entry on the Australian of the Year Honour Roll is here.

More on Mark, Orange Bellied Parrots (OBPs) and and his other interests

"We are only backyard birders but wanted an in depth view of Bruny Island. Our day with Mark gave us just what we wanted. Mark is an experienced birder and told us much we didn't know about the birds on Bruny and helped us see several of them. But he also had an amazing, in depth knowledge about the trees, shrubs, grasses, animals, history of the area and even the literature of Tasmania. After a morning tour of the Inala Nature Preserve we visited the Cape Bruny lighthouse (fabulous views) and then went on to Adventure Bay. We saw several birds and other wildlife along the way. Because We had only a few days in Tasmania and don't drive on the left side of the road we arranged to be picked up at our hotel. All in all it was a fabulous day and we can't thank Mark enough for making it so. It was worth every penny and we would highly recommend it for anyone interested in an in depth up close view of Bruny Island."   TA Review - Feb 2018

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