D-G Direct: An update from Lou Sanson

Department of Conservation —  21/12/2015

By Lou Sanson, Director-General

Old Ghost Road cycle trail opens

I was delighted to join Minister Nick Smith at the opening ceremony for Westport’s Old Ghost Road last weekend.

I was proud to see the acknowledgement of our Operations Manager Bob Dickson and the huge amount of work that had been put in to working with the Westport communities on this cycle trail.

This 85 kilometre ride raised a total of $5.5 million in funding including $1.5 million from DOC. At a time when Westport has seen significant loss of jobs in their community, it’s great to join with others to support regional development in rural New Zealand. It will be one of New Zealand’s premier mountain bike rides and is already heavily booked.

At the opening of Old Ghost Road.

At the opening of Old Ghost Road. From left: Buller District Council Mayor Garry Howard, Minister Nick Smith, Project Manager Phil Rossiter, Bob Dickson, Mike Slater, Damien O’Connor, MP.

Project Mounga and NEXT Foundation

I’d like to acknowledge the major announcement last week of a significant commitment by NEXT Foundation to Project Taranaki Mounga.

Working with NEXT, Iwi and the local community, this partnership will enable us to make sizeable steps towards pest eradication and reintroduction of species in Mt Egmont National Park.

It’s great news for the Taranaki region and for all partners involved, and a great note to end the year on.

Nature Heritage Fund – 25 years

The Nature Heritage Fund recently marked its 25th anniversary with an event at Hakatere Conservation Park. I was there with other DOC staff, Minister Nicky Wagner and former Conservation Minister Philip Woollaston.

Hakatere Conservation Park. Photo: Lou Sanson

Hakatere Conservation Park

Since 1990, when the fund was set up to protect private land and add it to the conservation estate, the NHF Trust has spent $163 million on 750 applications protecting land through purchase or covenant. This equates to 342,000ha or 1.3% of New Zealand’s land area permanently protected.

Some of the best-known NHF purchases include St James Conservation Area (78,000ha),Birchwood Station (24,000ha), Greville Harbour on Durville Island (1800ha) Kura Tāwhiti /Castle Hill (8,800ha) and the remarkable number of conservation covenants on Chatham Island.

We finished the celebration with a tour of Hakatere Park, itself protected through NHF purchase. It is now the most protected and largely weed-free inland alpine basin left in New Zealand.

Nature Heritage Fund members.

Nature Heritage Fund. Rear: Mike Leigh, Minister Nicky Wagner, Phillip Woolaston (first Minister of Conservation), Di Lucas, Gwenda Harris, Jan Riddell, Les Molloy. In front: Gerry McSweeney, John Wardle.

Moutohora Island: a Treaty Partner co-management success story

I recently visited Moutohora/Whale Island near Whakatane with Ngāti Awa and the Te Tapatoru ā Toi Joint Management Committee, set up in 2005 for DOC and Ngāti Awa.

The island has been used by Maori since 1400 and since 1830 was subjected to whaling, quarries, sulphur mining and farming (completely cleared of native forest) and had a multitude of owners before the NZ Wildlife Service protected it in 1984.

Critically it was NZ’s first large island pest eradication and is now virtually completely restored with large populations of tieke, kiwi, kākāriki and tuatara. There are sufficient numbers of oi/grey faced petrel (89,000 pairs) to provide a cultural harvest of 200 birds for the first time in 50 years.

We discussed potential work to restore Raetihi Pa (the only pa site with stone terracing in New Zealand) and the original kumara gardens at Moutohora.

We also heard about a case to have Ngāti Awa’s Tauwhare Pa site treated as a historic icon or landmark site; and about Ngāti Awa’s role in supporting the Whakatane Kiwi Trust on the 490ha Ohope Scenic Reserve, with wide-scale stoat trapping.

Pomahaka Farmers thank our staff

At the Morgan Foundation’s New Zealand River Awards in November, Pathway for the Pomahaka was one of the best stories of the night.

The Pomahaka Farmers Water Care Group is committed to improving the water quality in their patch of West Otago. They’ve developed water quality testing and initiatives to understand the sources of nutrient in their catchment.

These efforts were recognised with the River Story award (shared with another great project, the Wairarapa Moana Wetland project).

Three of the farmers in the Pomahaka group came up to me at the end of the night to acknowledge Biodiversity Ranger Rosemary Clucas, who has been supporting their group with advice. They sung Rosemary’s praises for teaching them about freshwater species and why what they were doing was important.

It’s fantastic to see our staff supporting community initiatives that directly contribute to our freshwater stretch goal and to hear how much their input is appreciated.

John Gaukrodger

John Gaukrodger

John Gaukrodger farewell

A few weeks ago I joined our Hamilton and Thames staff to farewell John after 50 years of service to conservation.

I first worked for John as a ranger in Invercargill in the Catlins Forest Park in 1980, and developed a huge respect for his ability to get things done.

He was a founder of Kauri 2000, the establishment of Moehau ecological area and led controversial 1080 pest ops there that have led to a 70% kiwi fledgling success rate.

He was instrumental in the development of Pureora Timber Trail, Karangahake Gorge mountain bike trail, the Miranda/Pukorokoro viewing facility and the Cathedral Cove redevelopment. He also played a key role in the Hauraki/Whanui treaty claim.

I joined many staff in wishing him well as he departs from DOC having left a significant legacy through his career.

Opotiki office visit

In November I visited our Opotiki office where I saw the significant work they’ve done with on-site interpretation in the Waioeka Gorge, and how well their office works with Nga Whenua Rahui, Opotiki District Council and the regional council.

I met Tony Whittle, who has been working with Corrections for five years on a number of projects in the area that involve, on average, 6000 hours of Corrections volunteer time each year.

Tony Whittle and some of the projects he's worked on.

Tony Whittle and some of the projects he’s worked on.

With Mana Gemmell, he has helped to develop the Whakatane kiwi sanctuary shelter, the new Sandy Bay walk and the Tirohanga Dunes bike trail

On a number of these projects he’s used Black Power volunteers, helping to influence them towards a life away from alcohol, drugs and violence.

Meri Kirihimete

I’d like to wish a Merry Christmas to readers of this blog on behalf of everyone at DOC. We hope to see you out there enjoying our natural spaces this summer or in one of our visitor centres. Have a safe and happy holiday everyone.

One response to D-G Direct: An update from Lou Sanson


    The Old Ghost Road opening is super exciting and an amazing achievement by a like-minded group of people with a lot of heart and soul. Can’t wait for the opportunity to go and ride it. As for all the other projects mentioned – we are so lucky to have so many wonderful people giving their time to these amazing projects nationwide.