Date: 16 September 2009
Fancy exploring an off-shore island for the summer, or sitting under the shade of a tree in the Ruahine Forest Park watching the Oroua River flow past? That’s exactly what the 2009 Conservation Award winners in the Palmerston North area enjoy doing.
Steve Pilkington, of the Pohangina Valley, is a long-term volunteer for the Department of Conservation (DOC) involved in numerous local and national projects to protect native wildlife. During the summer Steve tends to migrate to off-shore islands to volunteer. His adventures include working with kakapo on off-shore islands like Little Barrier and Codfish and assisting with muttonbird research on the Sub-Antarctic Snares Island. Locally he has served for more than 25 years as an Honorary Ranger and monitoring local species.
Before becoming a senior field officer for Wellington Fish & Game, Steve was a lecturer of environmental studies at the International Pacific College in Palmerston North, where he developed a course with a strong focus on conservation. Steve and his students helped with a wide array of conservation tasks, including weed control, planting, beach clean-ups and powelliphanta snail surveys.
Although he has been involved in conservation for a very long time, Steve is not sure where his interest came from. “It’s all about putting something back”, says Steve. “If you are really interested in conservation, volunteer with DOC and work hard”, he advises. “You will get to know people, and when they see that you are prepared to work, opportunities will open up – that’s how I got to go to Little Barrier Island and it just went from there”.
Stuart Penny has explored wild landscapes all over New Zealand as a deerstalker and conservationist. His favourite place is a spot in the Ruahine Forest Park, near Alice Nash Memorial Heritage Lodge on the track down to the Oroua River, shaded by a tree and with a great view. His vision is to see a healthy population of whio/blue duck living once again on the lower reaches of the Oroua catchment. As a child, Stuart often observed birdlife on the swamp at the back of his family farm in Linton. His interest in wildlife blossomed from there.
Stuart has worked with DOC to monitor threatened species like powelliphanta snails and bats. He is involved in two big community projects to reduce predation on native birds like kiwi and whio in the Ruahines. Stuart helped set up the Te Potae O Awarua stoat trapping lines and is the main liaison between the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association (NZDA) and DOC for the Oroua Blue Duck Protection Project. He also coordinates the volunteers, and encourages community involvement in this initiative.
Stuart’s advice to people who want to get involved in local conservation is “Don’t just think about it – do it”. He recommends connecting with an organisation involved in conservation. “Become a volunteer, or if you have any interest in hunting, join the Deerstalkers Association –we’re also mad keen wildlife photographers and people who want to help out with projects”.
Conservation Awards are presented each year by DoC to local people who make outstanding contributions to conservation gains. Jason Roxburgh, Area Manager for DoC, sees the awards as an important way to recognise the huge voluntary effort that often goes unnoticed by the general public. “Conservation is everyone’s business, not just the Departments” he said. “These guys are heroes, true examples of people taking responsibility to leave our natural heritage in a better place for future generations, and inspiring others to do the same”.