Southern Lakes Sanctuary’s mission

Department of Conservation —  30/08/2023 — Leave a comment

Queenstown tourism workers were hard hit by COVID-19. In 2021, Southern Lakes Sanctuary received Jobs for Nature funding to employ staff, such as ex-tourism worker and trapping volunteer Philip Green.

By Nicole Sutton, Jobs for Nature Delivery Manager

The AJ Hackett Bungy base in Queenstown is where you’ll find the office of GSD Workforce Ltd, and the GSD office is where you’ll find the engine room of the large-scale restoration project Southern Lakes Sanctuary.

Twenty-four months ago this office was a storeroom and AJ Hackett Bungy staff were staring down the barrel of a tourist-free Queenstown thanks to the arrival of COVID-19. That is until an ambitious group of people, led by the Whakatipu Wildlife Trust, made a successful bid for Jobs for Nature funding and got the ball rolling on a large-scale predator control project.

Wendy Johnston, Katie Herries, Amber Stewart and Daniel Soares taking a break while deploying traps at Wye Creek. Photo: Philip Green

The mission

Southern Lakes Sanctuary’s long-term goal is to eradicate introduced mammalian predators across the catchments of Lake Whakatipu and Lake Wānaka. The Trust that oversees this project is a consortium of six local groups that collectively represent approximately 84 community groups, landowners, and businesses that have been working for many years to protect and restore biodiversity.

The Southern Lakes Sanctuary project now has 22 staff working on it. Various ex-tourism workers are using their ecology degrees, while others on the team are learning about ecology for the first time.

Southern Lakes Sanctuary is on track to achieve its Jobs for Nature funding agreement predator control target of 130,200 hectares. They’ve also been doing extensive predator and native species research and monitoring. They’ve provided their member groups with much-needed resourcing for traps and other equipment and supported them to expand where applicable.

They facilitate informative events for their member group volunteers. They already receive funding additional to Jobs for Nature and are actively seeking more funding so that they can continue long after their Jobs for Nature term ends in July 2024.

Wye Creek trap deployment. Daniel Soares, Wendy Johnston, Amber Stewart, and Philip Green. Photo: Katie Herries

Philip Green’s winding road to conservation

One of the 22 staff now working with Southern Lakes Sanctuary is ex-tourism worker Philip Green. Philip has had an interesting journey to becoming their Technical and Field Advisor. He started life in the North Island, where he completed a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and maths at Auckland University, before hightailing overseas, discovering a passion for climbing, the environment and the outdoors. He spent time, amongst other things, as a Systems Engineer in Sydney and London, and a taxi driver in Sydney. Eventually, he and his partner Wendy moved to Christchurch.

In 1999, after looking longingly towards the mountainous country of the south for a few years, Philip and Wendy moved to Queenstown and started a wine tour business.

Philip joined the Queenstown Climbing Club committee and become their conservation officer after deploying predator traps in the popular climbing area Wye Creek. This is part of the Southern Lakes Sanctuary project area and is home to endangered birds such as kea, potentially rock wren, and native lizards. Philip was also involved in founding the Whakatipu Wildlife Trust, which is a consortium member group of Southern Lakes Sanctuary.

Two of the Wye Creek DOC200 traps are located at 2100 metres above sea level. Philip has a plausible claim that these are New Zealand’s highest permanent traps. And they catch stoats.

McCanns skink in the Wye Creek area. Photo: Philip Green

A mix of old-school and new-school techniques

As Technical and Field Advisor, Philip provides trapping advice to Southern Lakes Sanctuary and leads specific projects, primarily trap line expansion and research in the Whakatipu basin. He also does a fair amount of trap installation, trap servicing, and monitoring. With a solid understanding of health and safety management, he ensures their trap builders and field workers are signed off and competent to do their jobs. And he’s put his Information Technology skills to good use overseeing some of Southern Lakes Sanctuary’s data systems.

While working at the Southern Lakes Sanctuary HQ, Philip is surrounded by AT220 automated self-resetting traps in various stages of undress. With their sturdy plastic tops and wire mesh undersides these traps have the look of a solid, number 8 wire approach to trap development. But take off that plastic cover and there’s a bunch of efficient tech lurking in there. Southern Lakes Sanctuary have been using AT220 traps across their project area for six months or so now and they’ve been super impressed with this trap’s possum dispatching powers.

Southern Lakes Sanctuary has teamed up with technology company FTP Solutions. Philip is working with FTP to implement a remote monitoring system to eventually arm and disarm the trap, which includes installing cameras gathering information for Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to identify species. This means the trap would only be triggered to go off if there’s a target species, such as a possum, moseying up the entrance ramp. And non-target species such as kea would be safe to climb all over the trap to their heart’s content. This will be a very exciting development, as it means AT220s will be able to be deployed in kea habitat.

AJ Hackett Bungy has been amazing in their support of GSD and Southern Lakes Sanctuary. They’ve provided snug office space along with robust four-wheel drive vehicles for the team to get to rugged places. And GSD is supported by Bungy’s excellent administrative and safety systems.

Philip’s experience and interests are a good fit for Southern Lakes Sanctuary, and his passion for conservation has been obvious in the way he talks about the projects and people he works with.

“It’s an incredible environment to work in and a fantastic team,” he says of his Southern Lakes Sanctuary colleagues.

Follow Southern Lakes Sanctuary on: Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn.

Find out more about the Jobs for Nature – Mahi mō te Taiao, which helps revitalise communities through nature-based employment and stimulate the economy post COVID-19.

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