$120k awarded to Moonah local

FUTURE leader Ben French’s work on fire management is set to have long-lasting benefits for improving prescribed burning practices.

Moonah local, Mr French, was awarded a Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship after working on creating positive social change in his PhD with the University of Tasmania.

Currently in his first year of his PhD, Mr French said his focus was on improving fire management in Australia.

“In Australia, fire is a fixture in the landscape – it’s an unavoidable feature,” he said.

“I’m working on improving prescribed burning practices, trying to change fuels and manage bushfire risk in a more holistic way that includes the use of herbivores with prescribed burning.”

To achieve this, Mr French has been working with a number of stakeholders, including conservation NGOs, the Tasmanian Aboriginal community and a “forward-thinking” private landholder.

“I also think it’s a bridge building project to create really important links between diverse groups that are working in a fire space,” he said.

Mr French said the inspiration for his project came from his background in working in land management.

“I’ve always sort of grown up in the bush and spent a lot of time outdoors, so I’ve always been aware of how important a lot of these environmental issues are, particularly around fire,” he said.

“For me, the project started out being purely about ecology and about the relationship between fire and herbevorian plants.

“However, the opportunity to collaborate and work with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, the landholder and the NGOs has become a really significant benefit of the project, and one that I think has really meaningful benefits outside of just research.”

The Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship is only awarded to a small number of individuals across Australia and offers a number of opportunities.

Mr French will receive $120,000 of financial support over three years to help conduct his research.

Along with the financial support, the scholarship offers a 12-month leadership development program and an international travel experience.

“The leadership program will be really valuable for my personal development and will also give me access to an amazing network of people that are leaders in their field, such as previous scholars and other people associated with the Westpac Scholars Trust,” Mr French said.

“I’ll be looking to head to Indonesia to collaborate on a project looking at organic soil flammability, which is an issue that is common to both Tasmania and Indonesia.”

Caption: University of Tasmania PhD student Ben French was a recipient of a Westpac Future Leaders Scholarship. Photo credit: Flashpoint Labs, Westpac Scholars.