The recipients of this year’s Department of Conservation Inland Otago Conservation Awards have been announced.

A group battling wilding pines in the Wakatipu, a hut warden who greatly enhances the visitor experience in Mount Aspiring National Park, and a group of young people who have boosted conservation in Central Otago are the recipients of this year’s Department of Conservation Inland Otago Conservation Awards.

The passion and dedication of all of the finalists is a true reflection of the 2011 Conservation Week theme, ‘Love New Zealand’ and on Thursday night (September 15), the Department of Conservation acknowledged this commitment at the annual Inland Otago Conservation Awards in Cromwell.

DOC Otago Conservator Marian van der Goes said the awards recognise the "can do" and “hands on” attitude of volunteers who are willing to go the extra mile for conservation.

"The commitment of these conservation champions is even more valuable with people being so time-poor and having so many other interests competing for their attention nowadays. DOC and the community appreciate the time and effort volunteers put into helping enhance and protect our natural and historic heritage - they are a great inspiration to us all," Ms van der Goes said.

She said the quality of the award finalists was again outstanding, making it difficult for the judging panel for select just one winner.

This year’s award recipients are:

Winner: Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group

The Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group is fighting a difficult battle to save Wakatipu’s iconic landscapes. The cost of controlling wilding trees is growing as rapidly as the trees so the group is uniting people to stop the rampant wilding conifer spread and preserve the Wakatipu’s stunning landscapes for current and future generations to enjoy.

The group’s 55 volunteers have been tackling the problem head on. They hold at least two weekends of volunteer days a year and have created an ‘Adopt a Hectare’ scheme. This involves local businesses adopting an area and contributing towards control work in that location. One business has pledged $50,000 annually to the cause.

Schools are also participating and the group works closely with landowners, encouraging them to contribute to wilding removal. It has a comprehensive working project and is making significant inroads into preserving a wonderful natural heritage.

Runner-up: Graeme Harford

Graeme Harford of Dunedin has volunteered as a warden at the Aspiring and Siberia huts in Mount Aspiring National Park every summer for the past 19 years. During the 3000 hours of volunteering he’s willingly given to DOC, he has turned the visitor experience into something memorable and special.

Graeme has passed on to thousands of travellers his enthusiasm for conservation and extensive knowledge of the park’s flora, fauna and history. He has helped trampers and mountaineers with injuries and arranged medical evacuations, his calm and methodical approach ensuring these stressful events were dealt with efficiently.

Runner-up: Malcam Charitable Trust: Conservation Corps

The time and energy given by the Malcam Charitable Trust’s Conservation Corps programme has meant an impressive array of Central Otago projects have been achieved over the past 13 years.

These enthusiastic young people have developed skills and built up confidence by helping DOC develop and maintain amenity areas, historic sites and tracks. They’ve planted trees, weeded, gathered seeds, put in and removed fences and installed signs. Their work is greatly valued by DOC and the community and is an important additional resource for the department.

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