Lifelong journey protecting native plants

Department of Conservation —  30/06/2016

By Andrea Crawford, Communications Advisor, DOC.

The tireless conservation work of Queenstown couple Neill and Barbara Simpson was recently recognised when they were presented with the Loder Cup.

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry presented New Zealand’s foremost botany award to the Simpsons at the Green Ribbon Awards earlier this month.

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Lou Sanson, Barbara and Neill Simpson, and Conservation Minister Maggie Barry at the Green Ribbon Awards.

Mr Simpson, a former DOC botanist, is an acknowledged expert on native plants and the effects of exotic pests on their ecosystem. Mrs Simpson, a retired teacher, has introduced thousands of children to our natural world through successful school and community volunteer programmes.

The Loder Cup is one of New Zealand’s oldest conservation awards and the Simpsons’ “tireless work to protect native flora and get others involved in looking after it has been an almost life-long journey,” Minister Barry said.

Neill and Barb with the Allan Mere Award, 1982.

Neill and Barb in 1982 with the Allan Mere award. The award was presented to the Botany Division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

One project they’ve been central to is reforestation of the Lake Wakatipu islands, planting more than 40,000 native plants there after a large area of Pigeon Island was decimated by fire in the mid-1990s. In the last few years, they’ve focused their time and effort on forming the Wakatipu Reforestation Trust and establishing the Jean Malpas community plant nursery. The nursery provides plants for conservation projects throughout the district and a facility to educate children (and adults) about the value of native plants. The nursery has clocked up more than 2,000 volunteer hours and  planted over 6,000 plants in 2015. Ms Barry said the Simpsons are an outstanding couple who have worked with extraordinary dedication, and represent the best of the New Zealand conservation movement.

Director-General Lou Sanson said the Simpsons show the best of the New Zealand conservation sector.

“From working previously with Neill and seeing his contribution continue well after leaving DOC, it shows the lifetime dedication some of our staff give to the cause of conservation.”

Commenting on the award, Neill and Barbara said: “We know or have known many of the Loder Cup recipients and feel honoured to have our names added to this historic cup. Our native flora is our passion and the Wakatipu Basin has endless opportunities for reforestation. It is exciting to  work with enthusiastic volunteers, DOC and QLDC to achieve this.”

Neill showing students how to pot plants.

Neill showing students how to pot up at the Jean Malpas Community Nursery.

Neill hails from Wanganui and during the 1970s, worked as a ranger in Tongariro National Park. He did botanical field work in the Waiouru army training area and the Ruahine and Tararua Ranges.

After that he followed his tramping interest to the South Island mountains and got a ranger job at Springs Junction on the West Coast. His next move was to Queenstown in 1981, where he oversaw the environmental aspects of the developing Remarkables Ski Area and was the Lakes District Conservator. When DOC restructured, he became its Queenstown Field Centre Manager.

After completing an extramural botany degree, he became DOC’s Otago region botanist. Neill retired 20 years ago but continues to consult privately on native planting.

Whakatipu-wai-Māori /Queenstown ranger Susie Geh, who works with the Simpsons on the Wakatipu Reforestation Trust, said Neill and Barb are an “inspiration” to work with.

“[They] are also good, kind people. Visiting Pigeon Island with Neill and Barb, and being taken to see a specific seedling which Neill wanted to check up on, shows just how connected they are to the work they do.”

The Loder Cup was donated by Gerald Loder to the New Zealand Government in 1926 and first presented in 1929.

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The Jean Malpas Community Nursery first birthday party.