D-G Direct: An update from Lou Sanson

Department of Conservation —  26/05/2015

lou-sansonBy Lou Sanson, DOC Director-General

DOC most influential brand award

Last week DOC was recognised as the eighth most influential brand in New Zealand, accompanying global brands like Google and Facebook in the top 10. The only two New Zealand companies ahead of us were TradeMe and Air New Zealand.

The 1,000 respondents to the survey were asked to score 100 national and international brands on five factors – leading edge, trustworthiness, engagement, citizenship and presence. Achieving a spot on this list is a good indication of how much New Zealanders value conservation and the work DOC does to protect our nature, and that’s great to see.

Westport tourism initiatives in good shape

In Westport recently, I visited the Denniston Mine visitor attraction, into which DOC invested $1 million in 2007, adding to $2.5 million raised by the Denniston Heritage Trust from contributors like Development West Coast, Holcim Cement, Solid Energy and Buller District Council.

Denniston Mine heritage attraction.

Denniston Mine attraction

The role that this icon heritage site plays in the West Coast economy is significant. In 2008 there were 6,000 visitors to the mine attraction; this year there were 37,000.

Westport staff also shared the work they’ve been doing to assist Phil Rossiter and Mokihinui-Lyell Backcountry Trust on developing the Old Ghost Road as a new Westport attraction.

DOC has put in $800,000 and the Trust has independently raised $4.9 million. The project has nearly reached its fundraising target and is expected to become one of New Zealand’s best cycling experiences when it opens later this year.

They also told me about the recent boost in tourist numbers at Punakaiki and Cape Foulwind, where they are doing some excellent restoration work with Holcim Cement; and the increase in Heaphy Track hut use, which has tripled in the last four years (2230 visitors in 2010 to 6303 visitors in 2014).

Cape Foulwind viewing platform.

Cape Foulwind viewing platform

West Coast Business Awards

While on the Coast, I presented a new Environment category award at the ‘Leading Light’ Business Awards function at Shantytown in Greymouth.

DOC Director-General presenting at the Leading Light business awards.

Presenting at the Leading Light business awards

As well as presenting the award (which went to the West Coast Penguin Trust, managed by DOC Ranger Inger Perkins), I was able to share an update on the important role projects like Battle for our Birds, Hokitika Gorge, Franz and Fox visitor access and the West Coast Wilderness Trail are playing in the West Coast economy.

Safety leadership really works

In Westport I was able to see an example of safety leadership in action when Conservation Services Manager Bob Dickson and I visited the Denniston Plateau to talk with Bathurst Mines Operations Manager Richard Thompson.

Richard has 48 staff working on the high altitude mine site, with a lot of explosives, machinery and exposure to heavy rain and snow.

Chris Woolmore, Richard Thompson and Bob Dickson at Bathurst Mines.

Chris Woolmore, Richard Thompson and Bob Dickson at Bathurst Mines

His staff have been proudly injury-free for the last 12 months and have had no lost time injury in the last 910 days. There have been no slips, trips or falls. This has been achieved entirely through employee engagement – just talking to staff. It’s taken three years, but Richard spoke of his intense pride in this achievement.

Field trip with DOC staff inspires new business leaders volunteer group

I recently addressed the first annual general meeting of the MOA Conservation Trust, which has a membership of 40 volunteers from the Wellington business community.

The MOA Conservation Trust Annual General Meeting.

At the MOA Conservation Trust AGM

The Trust was established after a field trip to Fiordland with Te Anau Conservation Services Manager, Lindsay Wilson, and National Predator Officer, Darren Peters.

The Trust’s volunteers have recently set 170 traps in the Orongorongo Valley. They’ve developed a roster to coordinate weekend trips for killing rats and possums in the Valley, all to bring back our birds and make a difference in conservation.

They’re keen to get their kids involved in understanding how important it is for our nature, to get possums, rats and stoats under control in New Zealand, and on integrating their work with the outstanding programme already going on with the Rimutaka Forest Park Trust.

New dog training device has wide applications

I was excited to show the MOA members a new device developed by one of our Principal Science Advisors, Clare Veltman, and DOC’s Electronics team. The pre-production ‘Smell&Stop’ device mimics the look and smell of a kiwi, but delivers a small electric shock when the dog gets too close.

Smell&Stop in the wild.

Smell&Stop in the wild

Smell&Stop has tremendous potential for application in training farm dogs, pig hunting dogs and pet dogs in any area where kiwi are being threatened by canine predation. Different synthetic bird and animal scents can be created, meaning the device can be used to protect many other endangered species – and for that matter common animals like cats and chickens.

The team is looking at using Smell&Stop for training DOC predator dogs. They’re also looking for ways to take the system to market, which has included securing the Australasian patent – and it will be featured on French public television in August as part of the documentary series Periples 360.

With any luck, Clare and the team will be able to achieve their vision of turning this into a commercial product that brings in revenue for DOC’s other conservation programmes.

Virtual Great Walker competition

Finally, it was great to see the video of Hillcrest Normal School students learning about their Virtual Great Walker competition win.

We’ll look forward to welcoming the Hillcrest kids to Abel Tasman National Park, when they take their prize trip in November this year.

Abel Tasman National Park.

Abel Tasman National Park