Meet the experts - Lachlan Copeland

Monday, 24 January, 2022

Lachlan And Book Landscape

Meet NSW's foremost Native Orchid expert Lachlan Copeland. With his new co-authored book 'Guide to Native Orchids of ACT and NSW' fresh off the press, we sat down with the orchid guru to chat about life as a botanist. Hear about how he makes a difference at ELA, his love for ABC news hour and what he loves most about working at ELA.

What achievement are you most proud of? 

Probably writing the ‘Guide to Native Orchids of NSW and ACT’ book with two young kids at home. I started the process three years ago, working on it at night and on weekends. It was a challenge working full time and then on the book with a one-year-old and another baby on the way. 

Why do you love Orchids?   

It’s hard to explain. They are rare, beautiful things and very mysterious. Just when you think you understand them a new species turns up unexpectedly. Orchids become ingrained in you, somehow.

Why did you choose to work in the environmental space?

It was easy, I’ve always loved nature. First animals, then plants. I’ll admit, I don’t deal well with being in a stuffy office, so I love the balance of working a bit in the office and the rest of the time, which I much prefer, in the outdoors.

Lachlan At Horton Ck Falls2

Lachlan Copeland in his preferred office. 

What do you love most about working at ELA?

The people I work with. It’s a good job, good pay and interesting work. But the people and the clients have become good friends over the years. My colleagues at Eco Logical Australia are knowledgeable, friendly and easy-going people. I guess we have a common bond. We have similar ethics and morals.

An interesting or fun fact your team or your clients might not know about you?

I used to have a terrible phobia of frogs. I was petrified of them. When I was a kid, my brother would throw them at me, and I would squeal. I would try to avoid them but that’s not easy in my line of work. But I forced myself to get over it. I faced my fears and I’ve now completed frog surveys without too many issues. Though, I still squirm a little when I see a frog and occasionally break into a cold sweat. It’s a bit embarrassing, but there it is.

To share your genius, what’s the most important thing clients should consider on their projects to maintain biodiversity?

The seasonality of the environment doesn’t always match up with the timeline of a project. In relation to my area of knowledge, orchids, I’d say consider that many are only detectable one or two months a year. Only when they shoot and flower. That means you can't do a quick assessment to know if they are there. You need to take the time and do an assessment. Clients need to be patient and be aware of those limitations.

Tell us about your recently published book on orchids. 

I had been working on an orchid book of North Eastern NSW (which is the area I know best) but never really managed to finish it. So, when a very good friend of mine and Victorian orchid guru Gary Backhouse asked to team up and write a book covering the whole NSW, I jumped at the chance. When Gary says he’ll do something you know it will happen so I said “yes” to him, knowing there would be no backing out. 

NSW is the most orchid diverse state in Australia. The last orchid field guide was published over 25 years ago. Most states have their own guide and NSW has been lagging, despite NSW having more orchids than any other state in Australia. Our book is by far the biggest and most comprehensive NSW orchid book to date. 

How do you make a difference in your role with Eco Logical Australia?

Plant identification is what I'm best at and I’m always happy to mentor anyone in the Eco Logical Australia team and live our value of ‘share your genius’. I work to those strengths and lean on others in our team when it comes to my weaknesses. Data entry and computers are not my forte so it’s good I work with some great tech experts! 

What’s your favourite orchid? 

It would have to be one I discovered that has been named after myself - Danhatchia copelandii. It’s pretty great to know the only place it lives in the world is in my backyard. I’ve often wondered what will happen to it after I’m gone, who will look after it.

Danhatchia Copelandii@ Bonville Nsw9

Danhatchia copelandii - discovered by Lachlan in 2018.

How do you work with your clients and be an approachable expert?

I have lots of repeat clients – people that have become friends over the years from working together on multiple projects. I work best when I have an informal chat over the phone with them. It’s about being able to share your knowledge in an informal way and always be mindful of exactly what they are after. 


Lachlan is always keen for a chat to help his colleagues and clients. 

What’s your favourite field snack. 

That’s easy. 25 years ago, a colleague donned me the ‘Muesli Bar Kid’. It’s got everything you need: sugar energy, sugar, protein. Did I mention sugar? They’re the best. 

What do you listen to when you're on the road for work? 

I always listen to Triple J. I also love listening to the news on the hour, every hour. I know it’s nerdy, but I love it. 

What’s your top tip for budding ecologists who want to become botany experts?  

To be an expert I always thought specialising in something was important. When you find your passion, lean into it. Read everything you can, talk to other experts and share your knowledge. It might take ten years to gain that expertise, but it will open doors in the long run. I'm not great at many things, but I'm especially good at orchids and having a particular strength to leverage off is like gold. A general understanding is desirable, but when it comes to selling yourself as an expert, it can give you the chance to stand out and gain an advantage out of it.

Got a project that needs a specialised team of botanists? 

Dr. Lachlan Copeland

Senior Botanist  

0413 341 692