By Lou Sanson, DOC Director-General
Sadly George McMillan (OBE) passed away in October.
George held significant roles including Commissioner of Crown Lands and Landcorp CEO.
Many DOC staff remember working with George as he tirelessly negotiated significant new conservation land purchases with our Nature Heritage Fund and assisted Maori landowners with an economic outcome in return for conservation agreements on Stewart Island and in Southern Fiordland.
He was a very strong member of the New Zealand Conservation Authority. He believed in protecting large and special tracts of our conservation heritage and spent 20 years working with DOC to protect the very best examples of remaining private land to add to the public conservation estate. His ability to work with landowners to close a deal was legendary.
He has made a huge contribution to the land and protected ecosystems we now manage and is one of our great unsung public servants, leaving such a permanent legacy for Kiwis and conservation.
I’d also like to acknowledge the tremendous contribution made to conservation by Dr Bill Ballantine, who passed away on 1 November.
Bill was widely regarded as the father of marine conservation in this country, driving the creation of the Marine Reserves Act 1971 and our first marine reserve at Leigh in 1977.
So much of the conservation we do today was influenced by Bill’s body of work and a lot of our staff will know him and his work. We are so pleased our Auckland staff got him to the recent Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary announcement last month. The conservation community will miss him greatly.
Last week we celebrated Conservation Week throughout the country with our theme ‘Healthy Nature Healthy People’.
I’d like to thank all the staff who are contributing to the 160 events throughout New Zealand, and the project team for pulling it all together.
Healthy Nature Healthy People focuses us on the role that we play as an organisation in contributing to the wellbeing of New Zealanders, and the protection and enjoyment of our treasured natural environments.
We all know from experience that we feel better when we’ve been enjoying the outdoors. Over Labour weekend my daughter Georgia and I cycled the Timber Trail, the Old Coach Road and tramped into the new Waihohonu Hut in Tongariro National Park. Experiences like this certainly help us appreciate how much difference nature makes to our lives both mentally and physically, and this is something DOC can share with all kiwis.
Last week we signed a renewed partnership agreement with Transpower. Their network includes 12,000 kilometres of transmission line and 40,000 structures, and they regularly work with 11,000 landowners to access their network on private land. With 5% of their assets crossing DOC land, we are one of the largest relationships they have.
This agreement will help us work better together and share data that will benefit conservation, such as adding Transpower access routes to our maps to enhance public access to recreation.
As well as the overarching agreement, they’ve committed $100,000 to conservation work in the Grebe Valley near Lake Manapouri and have put $1 million a year into a community care fund to help fund projects like Predator Free Crofton Downs.
We’re now in discussions about working together on other areas where our interests overlap, such as wilding pines, pest and weed issues associated with the national power grid, and Cook Strait marine opportunities.
DOC innovation with Kiwirail
Any staff who have recently travelled State Highway 2 to National Park may have seen the unusual sight of the Makatote Viaduct covered in plastic wrap.
This was the result of a DOC negotiation aimed at preventing any of the structure’s original lead-based paint from getting into the surrounding stream while they repaint the structure.
Additionally Kiwirail have put forward a predator control programme around the Makatote River to improve the breeding outcomes of whio through the Genesis Energy Whio Forever programme.
China and New Zealand working together for conservation
Last week Minister of Conservation Maggie Barry and I joined Ambassador Wang Lutong at the Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre in the Firth of Thames, along with members of local Iwi Ngāti Paoa and our partners Fonterra.
The ambassador announced a decision by the Chinese Government to protect 4,000 hectares of important wetland in Bohai Bay, China – the main stopover for godwits and red knots migrating from Alaska to spend the summer in New Zealand. We’re also working towards a Memorandum of Understanding agreement with the Chinese government for the further protection of our shorebirds in China.
Nurturing skills development while growing conservation
While at Miranda, the Minister and I also visited the nursery at Te Whangai Trust where, with the support of the Ministry of Social Development, Department of Corrections, NZ Police and DOC, they have planted 1 million eco-sourced native plants through their work and life skills training programme.
The vision behind Te Whangai is to provide training for unemployed beneficiaries – giving them valuable work and life skills while growing conservation.
They have so far placed 360 of their trainees in full time work and education and currently have 38 trainees at three sites near Auckland. They’ve received substantial funding and support from the Ministry of Social Development, the Tindall Foundation, NZ Lotteries, philanthropic groups and NZ Steel. They now generate 60% of their income from selling native plants, planting and advisory services.
We will be advancing our partnerships with programmes like Te Whangai, especially through the new agreement with Department of Corrections that was signed last week.
A trip to the Queenstown Visitor Centre
I recently visited our new Queenstown Visitor Centre, where the team includes French, Russian, Korean, Mandarin, Spanish, Japanese and German speakers. With such a range of languages in the team, they are well placed to welcome the thousands of visitors who put Queenstown on their itinerary every year — last year they had 80,000.
Since we moved into the new Visitor Centre, visitor numbers have grown 40%. At this time of year, their key role is relaying information on the Routeburn Track, particularly avalanche safety, and selling large quantities of New Zealand’s biggest selling map, the Routeburn Map.