D-G Direct: An update from Lou Sanson

Department of Conservation —  25/02/2016

By Lou Sanson, Director-General

Te Pukenga Atawhai – Northland

Last week I joined our Northland and Auckland staff for two days at our Te Pukenga Atawhai programme at Motatau Marae in Northland. Having done my first Pukenga at Otakau in Otago in 1999, I was really impressed at how the course has been developed.

Attendees arrive at the Marae, where they're welcomed by Joe Harawira.

Attendees arrive at the Marae, where they’re welcomed by Joe Harawira

Since 1998 over 2,000 DOC staff have been through our 3-5 day Pukenga courses, which cover the skills needed by DOC staff to build and maintain effective relationships with tangata whenua.

Our staff who led the course all did a superb job of passing their knowledge on and bringing in local iwi leaders.

Participants on Te Pukenga Atawhai at Matatau Marae, Northland.

Participants on Te Pukenga Atawhai at Matatau Marae, Northland

A particular privilege on this course was to hear Kevin Prime’s remarkable stories of conservation and kiwi recovery.

Possums first arrived in Motatau Valley in 1957 and by 1970 they were having a significant impact on kukupa (pigeon). By 1985 Kevin could no longer face the tragedy unfolding in his valley where Maori had lived for 450 years.

He became one of New Zealand’s first importers of stoat traps and along with his work on possums has lead a turnaround towards predator free in Motatau Scenic Reserve. The recovery has been so remarkable that the Minister of Conservation appointed Ngāti Hine as trustees and guardians in 1994. Kiwi numbers are now at remarkably high levels through sustained pest management by Ngāti Hine.

Kevin Prime (Ngāti Hine) at Te Pukenga Atawhai.

Kevin Prime (Ngāti Hine) at Te Pukenga Atawhai

Community fundraisers for predator-free New Zealand

Two events I attended earlier this year have confirmed to me why ‘conservation is everyone’s business’.

Just before Christmas I attended a barbeque and auction hosted by the MOA Conservation Trust in Wellington. This group led by Jamie McNaught includes people like Steve Tew (New Zealand Rugby Union CEO) and Peter Chrisp (CEO of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise). They have done great work trapping possums in the Southern Rimutakas, with 300 possum kills at November 2015. At this fundraising evening they raised $67,000 to purchase GoodNature self-resetting traps to expand their predator control programme.

Their efforts support the excellent work of the Rimutaka Forest Park Trust, whose 80+ volunteers have been trapping in the region for the past decade, and who maintain stoat and rat trap lines across 3,000 hectares of the park (buffered by a further 7,000 hectares).

Project Island Song’s Richard Robbins and Fleur Corbett, Lou, Guardian of the Bay of Islands committee members Rana Rewha and Richard Witehira, and deputy chair of the group Rod Brown.

Project Island Song’s Richard Robbins and Fleur Corbett, Lou and Guardian of the Bay of Islands committee members

In January, I attended an Air New Zealand Environment Trust and Project Island Song event with Kerikeri staff. The event brought together all key private landowners to set a vision for predator free Eastern Bay of Islands.

With the support of our DOC Community Fund and Air New Zealand, Project Island Song has eradicated predators from a number of islands in the Bay of Islands. The real focus now is to stop pests getting back to the islands.

This community group plays a major role in spreading the word about island biosecurity and is now heavily focused on working with private landowners to secure all mainland sites around the eastern Bay of Islands, to create a halo effect from our remarkable predator free islands.

Visit to the Chathams

In January, I took some of our major partners to the Chatham Islands, so they could see first-hand how their support of DOC is making a real difference to conservation.

We picnicked at Caravan Bush on Pitt Island where we talked to locals about the new community-led parea/Chatham Island pigeon and royal albatross projects DOC is funding. The community is really excited about these fantastic initiatives.

Ambassador Wang and Science Secretary Wu from the Chinese Embassy, with DOC's Connie Norgate and Pitt Islanders Chip and Tussock.

Ambassador Wang and Science Secretary Wu from the Chinese Embassy, with DOC’s Connie Norgate and Pitt Islanders Chip and Tussock

We were then humbled to see the work of the Taiko Trust.

The Trust’s project to establish a second breeding colony for Chatham’s albatross is internationally important. Previously the only known breeding colony was on The Pyramid, a small outcrop south of Pitt Island. They’re now relocating 60 chicks a year to Point Gap on the Chatham Island mainland, giving this endangered species a better chance to thrive.

Our DOC Chatham Islands Team.

Our DOC Chatham Islands Team

I was impressed to learn that Chatham Island Food Co is donating four tonnes of fish and squid a year to feed the albatross chicks.

While on the Chatham Islands, we also saw progress on the new predator fence for Chatham albatross – one of the largest projects supported by our DOC Community Fund last year.


The communities on Pitt and Chatham are so committed to conservation and preserving their unique natural heritage. We were shown great hospitality by the Chatham and Pitt islanders and our partners were made to feel so welcome.

With me for the journey on 16-17 January were Chinese Ambassador Wang Lutong; Chris Mace, Chair of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA); Rick Ellis, CEO of Te Papa; Fonterra’s Miles Hurrell, Air New Zealand’s James Gibson, and Quinton Hall, CEO of Ngai Tahu Tourism.


Restoration of Mungo Hut, Hokitika

Just before Christmas, a small team led by Rob Brown from Federated Mountain Clubs went in and restored the Mungo Hut at the head of the Hokitika River.

The hut has special significance to me because it’s where I shot my first deer when I was 15 years old, and it was one of my favourite huts I visited growing up in Hokitika.

The DOC Community Fund funds hut restorations like this one through the New Zealand Outdoor Recreation Consortium, which receives funding for volunteer projects on New Zealand’s backcountry hut and track network. The Consortium has restored huts in some truly magic places, where so many of us have grown up experiencing our first backcountry adventures.

Silicon Valley meets New Zealand

Last weekend I spoke on ‘Climate Change and Conservation’ at the 2016 New Frontiers workshop in Whitemans Valley, Upper Hutt. New Frontiers is an innovation hub set up by Brian and Matthew Monahan with Yoseph Ayele that aims to bring technology thinkers from Silicon Valley to New Zealand to provide an international perspective on sustainability.


Other speakers came from NEXT Foundation, Air New Zealand and Federated Farmers with a particular focus on ecosystem services, natural capital and sustainability.

The New Frontiers team have also set up KiwiConnect to help technology thinkers and companies move to New Zealand to help address issues of sustainability and make the most of New Zealand’s innovation opportunities.

On Saturday Brian and Matthew announced their vision for regenerative farming including predator free for 1,000 hectares of their land in Whitemans Valley.

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

    Peter Hallinan 26/02/2016 at 7:12 pm

    Lou, thanks so much for giving us a view through your blog window of the wonderful world of DOC. – Peter