We are WELA: Sylvia Leighton

Spotlight on Sylvia Leighton, 2020 National Leadership Program Alumna

Sylvia is a 2020 National Leadership Program Alumna and she’s committed to expanding the psychology of farming from maximum returns to one that is inclusive of a thriving ecosystem for generations of plants, animals and farmers to come.

Earlier this year Sylvia Leighton (left) and partner Peter McKenzie (right) won the 2022 Australian Government Landcare Farming Award. Congratulations Sylvia and Peter!

We asked Sylvia to share more about her approach to farming and how her part in the WELA community has empowered her to speak up in a male dominated arena. 

Tell us about what you do and your recent win at the National Landcare Conference, and congratulations!

I am co-Director of a 1240 hectare property on the south coast of Western Australia. We have set the property up as an example of regenerative agriculture property. We have revegetated 120 hectares of wildlife corridors and are trying to find the balance between commercial agriculture and wildlife protection. 

We won the 2022 Australian Government Landcare Farming Award. The description of the award is: Acknowledges an individual, group or organisation that has demonstrated excellence and leadership in implementing sustainable and integrated land management practices to protect soil, water, vegetation and biodiversity. 

We will continue to look for inspirational pathways forward.

We want future generations to know that we do care about the state of the environment that we leave behind and we don’t want them to carry the burden of a degraded landscape which they have to try and repair and bring back into good ecological health.

How has what you learnt in WELA supported you to have a direct and tangible benefit on the environment?

The WELA teachings have supported me to be more outspoken. Farming is still a very male dominated arena and I now speak out much more readily when there is non-acknowledgment of the contribution women make in this arena. 

There are also many land management practices which are still causing long-term degradation of the landscape and I feel much more confident to ‘speak out’ and encourage people to start having round table discussions to find long-term solutions. 

Men are still threatened when I speak and can resort to ‘bully culture’ to try and intimidate me.

I know I have a whole gang of WELA women right around Australia backing my ‘voice’ and encouraging me to help society find pathways forward to start dealing with our major environmental issues.

Now I am STRONGER to speak out in public forums and meetings, asking people to consider making changes to the way we have been operating in the past. 

Over 60% of the Australian land mass is managed by farmers and graziers and it is well recognised that farming is a major contributor to climate change. It has the second largest carbon emissions behind the energy industry. Farming still has MANY externalities where land management practises detrimentally impact on landscape health outside the boundaries of the farm. These need to be addressed. There is still A LOT of illegal land clearing going on and I will continue to lobby for Australia’s weak land clearing laws to be addressed. 

There’s lots of work to do and WELA provides an amazing network of women with whom I can seek knowledge and support.

Cast you mind back to 2020 when you completed the WELA National Leadership Program, tell us about your experience.

WELA definitely developed our leadership skills. It introduced us to many other women in Australia within the environmental industry who have journeyed their way into leadership roles. We learnt about their experiences and gained knowledge on how to endure and be effective. We were mentored by women who had decades of experience in campaigning, strategizing, lobbying etc. We also learnt about how to manage emotions like environmental grief and disappointment. 

The most powerful component was knowing that we are now linked into a network of support, guidance and knowledge (I am smiling as I write this).

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