Minister of Conservation Hon Kate Wilkinson paid tribute to one of New Zealand's leading conservationists during a visit to South Waikato's Waotu district on Saturday.
In a ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of restoration work at the Jim Barnett Scenic Reserve, Kate Wilkinson made special mention of the work and inspiration that Waotu farmer Gordon Stephenson CNZM has provided to this and the wider community through his own conservation work and ideas over several decades. The function, attended by more than 100 people at the reserve, was part of the overall district celebrations marking 125 years of settlement at Waotu.
Instigator of the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust for the protection of biodiversity on farmland and a former chair of the Waikato Conservation Board, Mr Stephenson’s on-going support and guidance has resulted in more than 10,000 trees being planted at the Barnett Reserve since the project started in 1991. Kate Wilkinson said she was proud to be able to mark the occasion with a personal visit to the reserve, noting that a former minister, Hon Denis Marshall, had been present to support the launch of Mr Stephenson's initiative in 1991.
With the help of local school children, the South Waikato District Council, South Waikato Forest and Bird and other community volunteers, the Jim Barnett Scenic Reserve now has well formed tracks, labels identifying various tree species and pest control programmes that are allowing native bird populations, including the kereru, to flourish.
Function organisers Anne and Jack Groos of Putaruru said it was a measure of Mr Stephenson's remarkable foresight that the reserve is now well used by schools and Te Wananga O Aotearoa as a teaching tool for conservation and Rongoa Maori, thereby fulfilling the late Mr Barnett's wishes that the reserve be utilised as an educational and recreational area.