Introduction

This year’s Manawatū Conservation Awards celebrate an eclectic mix of conservation heroes who have been quietly labouring away to achieve great things in their communities.

Date:  12 September 2013

This year’s Manawatū Conservation Awards celebrate an eclectic mix of conservation heroes who have been quietly labouring away to achieve great things in their communities.

Conservation Awards are presented annually to celebrate those who work tirelessly to protect and cherish the natural heritage of the wider Manawatū region. It's also an opportunity to raise the profile of what is being done in the community and to provide inspiration to others.

Three awards are being presented this year - one to an organisation (New Zealand Landcare Trust), one to an individual (Dr Michael Shepherd), and one to an iwi/hapu group (Manaaki Taha Moana).

The 2013 ‘organisation’ award goes to the New Zealand Landcare Trust Manawatū-Whanganui. Although the local branch of this NGO has only been operating since September 2011, they have shown great capacity and tenacity. In a short time, Regional Coordinator Alastair Cole has involved many diverse communities in local conservation action, particularly around the Manawatū River Accord.

Landcare Trust Manawatū-Whanganui are currently actively involved in four key projects:

  • Whitebait Creek catchment - 40ha of dune lakes, 2200 hectares of catchment area, all designed around improving native fish habitat;
  • Stoney Creek catchment, which flows from Hiwinui down into the Manawatū River. This involves working with community champion Dave Stuart, with three and a half thousand trees planted there this year
  • Mangaone West Catchment, which flows into the Oroua River via the Makino Stream. Landcare Trust ran a grant process with all of the landowners within that catchment, which was about 300% subscribed for fencing and 100% subscribed for plants, proving landowners in that catchment are really motivated.
  • A weeds project trailing bio-controls for Field Horsetail. This is supported by a Sustainable Farming Fund grant of $316,000, plus a top up of more than 20% of that money from landowners and local organisations.

They also support other landcare groups around the region, such as Rangitikei Environment Group in Taihape and Save Our River Trust working on the Foxton Loop.

Regional Coordinator Alastair Cole explained how they’ve managed to get these community projects going: “A lot of what I do is networking, meeting people, discussing their project ideas with them and also looking around the region at potential of catchments and the potential of communities to take on landscape initiatives. We’ll do a convincing sales pitch, and often we’ll find a few champions who jump out of the mix and try their best to make something happen. I love it, I love going and having a chat with landowners and mulling it over with them about the potential of projects and really trying to provide them with some direction to make something happen.”

Mr Cole said he is very flattered to receive the award on behalf of Landcare Trust NZ, which was presented during an informal lunch on Monday 9 September with CEO Nick Edgar and several of Landcare’s community champions in attendance. “I like to think that I’m doing well, but it’s fantastic to be recognised by Department of Conservation in this way. I’m only one person so it’s neat to see that the work that I’m doing is ringing some bells with organisations and that people think that I’m doing a good job.” 

The recipient of the individual award is Ashhurst local Dr. Michael Shepherd, stoat trapper extraordinaire, geomorphologist and long-time coastal conservation advocate.

Since retiring, Dr Shepherd has dedicated a generous amount of his time to supporting the Department of Conservation’s Manawatū office in advocating for protection of coastal conservation values.

“Coastal landforms are a really important part of our natural landscape, and the Manawatū could be considered the Dune Capital of New Zealand, but a lot of people don’t realise how special those dunes are, or that they are even there,” he said. “The law allows for protection of ‘outstanding natural features and landscapes’, but defining what that means can be quite subjective,” he explained. There aren’t many experts on coastal geomorphology in New Zealand, and the subjective nature of the legislation makes the whole process quite difficult. I want to do what I can to help, and I’m one of only a few people who can”. 

He has also been involved in several other DOC conservation projects, the most significant and time-consuming being leading the Ashhurst Volunteer Stoat Trap Monitoring Group. Since August 2009, the group have been regularly checking and rebaiting 100 traps with fresh eggs donated by Zeagolds Foods. One of the great things about this group is their self-sufficiency. The only thing they ask of DOC is bait. Mike credits their success to the commitment of the group members; only two of the original ten have left and that’s only because they moved away from the area. Mike collates all of the trap catch data and compiles annual reports, and is always happy to oblige requests for information or presentations.

Dr Shepherd will be presented with his award during a meeting of the Ashhurst Volunteer Stoat Trap Monitoring Group on 18 September.

This year, a new award to recognise the contribution of local iwi/hapu groups is being introduced. The inaugural Kaitiakitanga Conservation Award goes to the Manaaki Taha Moana Project. This is a research project funded by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment, which aims to enhance coastal ecosystems for iwi and hapū by investigating ecological decline issues for freshwater into the marine and related biodiversity. The case study covers the coastal ecosystems between Hōkio and Waitohu Streams in Horowhenua and northern Kāpiti.

The project team is led by Dr Huhana Smith, with Aroha Spinks and Moira Poutama actively engaged in Kaupapa Māori and action research for six hands-on rehabilitation projects within the case study.

The work that Manaaki Taha Moana does helps ensure the diversity of our natural heritage is maintained and restored, and tangata whenua exercise their cultural relationship with their natural and historic heritage.

The work required is not always easy to implement, at times it is challenging and fraught, but despite this the team remain focussed and dedicated.

All three of the MTM researchers credit support from their whānau, hapū and iwi for their success:

Huhana Smith says “This award means a lot to us. We were delighted with the news from Department of Conservation. All our MTM collaborators work really hard on this project, including our iwi team for the Tauranga Moana case study. For this Horowhenua Māori MTM team, it's really great to receive some recognition for all the hard work required to be truly collaborative, inclusive and respectful of different knowledge systems.”

Moira Poutama, who had worked for  Te Iwi o Ngāti Tukorehe Trust for the last 10 years before being ‘seconded’ to MTM, says she was proud to be able to effect change in positive ways but it would not have been possible without hapū, whānau and iwi support.

Aroha Spinks was a fulltime mum. In 2009, she decided to study the Certificate in Iwi Environmental Management/Tiakina Te Ao at the local marae Tukorehe in Kuku. “Huhana was the monthly tutor and saw my enthusiasm and dedication to the cause. She approached me and asked if I would be interested in a part-time role working for our Iwi Environmental Resource Unit (Taiao Raukawa) in the new project Manaaki Taha Moana the following year. That was a prefect move for me as I still had the opportunity to spend precious time with my growing tamariki (Awhina and now also Kiinui),” she explains. Aroha says she feels privileged and excited to receive the award.“It is wonderful for our team to be recognised and acknowledged for all our hard work and long hours. However I also feel humble as we receive this award on behalf of our hapū and iwi, as well as the supporting organisations and community members who have also put a lot thought, guidance, sweat, money and many hours into our case studies.”

The award was presented to the Manaaki Taha Moana group at Raukawa Marae on Wednesday 11 September, with kaumatua, whānau and kaitiaki from Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga and other iwi affiliates.

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