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What’s it like to volunteer with DOC? Motueka and Takaka volunteers, and the DOC rangers who accompany them, tell all…

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By Kath Inwood, Partnerships Ranger, Nelson

The Motueka sandspit is an internationally significant site for shorebirds, providing roosting and nesting space for variable oystercatchers and banded dotterel, and temporary lodgings for the bar-tailed godwit. Being so close to town, however, it is a popular spot for Motueka dog owners to walk their dogs.

A variable oystercatcher.

A variable oystercatcher

Ranger Ross with some dogs.

Ranger Ross and some of the dogs

To improve awareness of the birds in the area, we got together with Tasman District Council and Birds New Zealand to try out an Australian idea – the Dog’s Breakfast. This event provides dog owners an opportunity to learn about the birds of the foreshore and sandspit over a bacon and egg butty (sandwich).

Around 50 dog walkers turned out to breakfast with their dogs over a two and a half hour period on Saturday 8 March.

With the smell of sizzling bacon in the background, David Melville from Birds New Zealand explained that variable oystercatchers and banded dotterel are key inhabitants of the sandspit area, along with the better-known bar-tailed godwits, who make the 11,000km flight between New Zealand and Alaska.

The crowd at the Dog's breakfast.

The crowd gathers for the dog’s breakfast

The purpose of the breakfast was to raise awareness of dog owners about the significance of this area for shorebirds, and to enable them to be more informed about how they can minimise the disturbance to wildlife, while enjoying the benefits of an area such as this to walk their dogs.

By Rudy Tetteroo, Programme Manager (Community Relations), Motueka

Pauline Samways, together with the Motueka Arts Council, has greatly increased local community awareness of godwits: birds who complete their non-stop migration from Alaska to here in New Zealand.

Pauline observing the godwits on the Motueka sandspit.

Pauline in Motueka with the godwits

Pauline was recently recognised as a Conservation Champion for her tireless work in helping raise the profile of Motueka’s most important annual visitor.

Just over ten years ago, Pauline left the classroom behind after being awarded a Science, Mathematics and Technology Teaching Fellowship by the Royal Society of New Zealand. This allowed Pauline to spend a year on the Motueka sandspit learning about its ecology. It was this experience that made Pauline realise just how truly amazing godwits are.

After following the progress of the satellite-tagged birds, Pauline saw how important the DOC managed Motueka sandspit was to the long-haul travellers who nested there. After her submission to the local council to ban dogs from roaming on the spit was unsuccessful, Pauline wrote articles for the local newspapers about the different birds that were found on the spit and relied on it for their survival. Her submission was later revised and the last 200 meters of the sandspit are now dog free thanks to her efforts.

People viewing the godwits using telescopes.

People viewing the godwits

In 2008 the Motueka Arts Council joined the unofficial Godwits Appreciation Club whilst looking for a new project that would be special to the Motueka Township. They came up with the idea of a ‘Welcome to the Godwits’ celebration—an exhibition of art, photography, poetry and sculpture by adults and school children, along with information about the birds and the importance of the estuary.

“We visited schools to enthuse the children who in turn carried the message to their parents,” says Pauline.

Pauline’s own “Viewing of the Godwits” event saw local Ornithological Society of New Zealand members set up their telescopes on the old wharf over-looking the estuary. People came out to view the godwits feeding and to hear about the amazing journey they made every year. The “Viewing of the Godwits” event paired up with the Motueka Arts Councils festival for three years following its debut and included guest speakers, a dress up parade and art on the waterfront. These events encouraged one local school to publish a book (called ‘Never Ending Summer’) on the topic with the first 200 copies selling out.

Godwits landing on the Motueka sandspit after their migration from Alaska.

Godwits landing in Motueka

In the past three years, a colony of white fronted terns has been nesting at the end of the sandspit. To help manage these predators, DOC provided Pauline with six traps, which she and a friend now monitor regularly.

The increased awareness of godwits in the Motueka community is greatly due to Pauline’s hard work and her partnership with the Motueka Arts Council, as well as the support from DOC and the Tasman District Council.

Pauline has been the community voice working in a methodical and persistent fashion in the best interest of the birds. It’s the quiet, unassuming style that has allowed her to succeed where others have failed.

Pauline using her telescope to observe the godwits.

Pauline using her telescope

Come behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation (DOC).

March is Whio Awareness Month. To celebrate this, we profile Ivan Rogers—Whio Ranger in the Motueka Area Office.

A whio gets away from Ranger Ivan Rogers.

A whio nearly getting away on me. This picture gets trotted out at work fairly regularly, to much amusement.

At work

Some things I do in my job include… I’m in the second year of a three year study putting cameras on whio nests to record predation. I’m also tracking them during the moult when they are equally vulnerable to predation. And anything else that comes along, especially if it’s to do with lizards.

Ranger Ivan Rogers is bitten on the finger by a common gecko.

Attacked by a common gecko during hakea control. This was the first one found after a rodent eradication. From being virtually undetectable, they have bounced back strongly

The best bit about my job… is that moment when you find a whio nest and look her (briefly) in the eye.

The loveliest DOC moment I’ve had so far is… The first time I saw a rock wren. Gareth from Golden Bay had gone for a walk up Mt Perry and had seen one. I had never seen one and I was so jealous that I scooted up as soon as I could and there it was! There turned out to be a family group resulting from a successful nest. Like toutouwai they will perch on your boot.

The DOC (or previous DOC) employee that inspires or enthuses me most is… Kath Smith from Golden Bay. We met when we were hut wardens—a rare instance of an ‘instant’ friendship—she knows me all too well!

Ranger Ivan Rogers holds a bag of fur seal vomit from Tonga Island.

This is me collecting fur seal vomit from Tonga Island

On a personal note…

Most people don’t know that I… was a punk in the very late 70s/early 80s.

The song that always cheers me up is… Roadrunner by the Modern Lovers or anything else with two chords.

My stomping ground is… I’ve had a few—Aro St, Surry Hills, the Heaphy Track…. Now I do my ‘stomping’ in the South Branch Wangapeka.

My greatest sporting moment was when… Kind of a sporting moment: I once rode a Yamaha 50 from Christchurch to Karamea and very nearly back—the front tyre blew out at Woodend so I chucked it behind a gorse bush and hitched the rest of the way….

In my spare time… I breed Northland green gecko (Naultinus grayii).

Ranger Ivan Rogers taking invertebrate samples on the Richmond Ranges.

Invertebrate sampling on the Richmond Ranges

Deep and meaningful…

My favourite quote is… “Quick! A pumpkin” (a friend’s small boy. I think he plays for the Rabbitohs now).

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is… Keep all your (photographic) negatives.

In work and life I am motivated by… Quick answer: I’m in awe of those people who work with the demented elderly, the profoundly disabled, and the deeply disturbed. What a noble thing to do—how is it they are the low waged?

My conservation advice to New Zealanders is… Don’t put milk out for hedgehogs.

If you could move backwards or forwards to any decade in time, which would you pick and why?
It kind of depends on where as much as when doesn’t it? I was a bit too young to enjoy the 70s so that’s one decade I’d go for. Specifically 1970s USA—being around to see all those great bands. In Detroit the Stooges and the MC5 and in New York the last days of the Velvet Underground, the Ramones, the New York Dolls, the whole Max’s Kansas City and CBGBs scene.

Rangers Ross Maley and Ivan Rogers in the Horoirangi Marine Reserve .

Out in the Horoirangi Marine Reserve with my colleague Ross Maley

Every Friday Jobs at DOC will take you behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation.

Today we profile Motueka ranger Tom Young…

At work…

Taking in the spectacular scenery in Milford Sounds

Name: Tom Young

Position: Ranger, Visitor/Historic, Motueka Area Office

What kind of things do you do in your role?

My role is pretty varied, with about 70% office and 30% field work. I am involved in a wide variety of work. I manage the Asset Management Information System (AMIS) database for the Motueka Area Office which keeps me pretty busy, and I also have several capital projects to manage each year. Back in March, we moved an old Forest Service six-bunk hut from the Right Branch Wairoa to Porters Creek in the Red Hills of Mt Richmond Forest Park—that was a challenge and great fun!

I also manage the area’s historic assets—from 1870’s gold workings in the Wangapeka, to Heritage Buildings in the centre of Nelson. I am busy with signage projects across the area and complete regular data and photo monitoring as part of the visitor monitoring (numbers and impacts) across the area. As well as all that, I enjoy getting out in the backcountry assisting the track team on track and hut maintenance projects.

What is the best part about your job?

What does it for me is the whole variety of work and the different places I get to go within the area. I get out and about a fair bit, from the very popular Abel Tasman Coast and its tens of thousands of visitors, to the relative remoteness of Mt Richmond Forest Park. It really is the variety and blend of work that does it for me. 

Crossing Big River with Steve Bagley returning from Kahurangi Point

What is the hardest part about your job?

I wouldn’t say any part was harder than the rest, it’s just different. Coordinating work, logistics and getting on with colleagues, contractors and staff is sometimes challenging. I believe the key is to manage your work and time, to be there for others and to not over-commit yourself.

What led you to your role in DOC?

I’ve been with the Department for just over eight years now. Before that, I was a Ranger in Scotland for 11 years, and some time before that I served 12 and a half years in the British Navy (much of that time in the Submarine Service). Once the Cold War was over, they gave me a medal and the Admiralty said, “Thanks, you’ve saved us from the Soviets but we don’t need you any longer”, so I decided to pursue a career as a Ranger. I went to College/Polytech for two years, and then picked up some seasonal Ranger work in central Scotland, before getting my first full time Ranger position in 1992.

HMS Torbay, my last sea posting

My family and I came to New Zealand for a month’s holiday and to stay with a friend in Nelson back in December 2000. We came back for 12 months in April 2002 while my wife completed a Commonwealth Teacher Exchange, then later in 2003 I applied for and got offered my first position with DOC at Nelson Lakes (I’m sure what swung the job for me was the fact that in Scotland I had been using an Asset Management System called CAMS, and at that time the Department’s system was called VAMS. Similar name, but quite different!). I took the job at Nelson Lakes with the idea that we might go back to Scotland after a couple of years or so, but here I am eight years later—I’m now in the Motueka Area Office—and still enjoying it.

What was the highlight of your month just gone?

I spent Christmas with my family and friends in Richmond, worked only a couple of days between Christmas and New Year and joined other friends for New Year at their bach in Kaiteriteri. I enjoyed the awesome firework display from the beach at midnight and a walk to Hardwoods’ Hole on the 1st of January. I spent four days last week cycling the 160km Central Otago Rail trail with my wife Fiona, youngest son Findlay and a couple of good friends. That was great—lots of stops on the way for coffee, refreshments, Jimmy’s pies, photographs and even a  revitalising dip in the Manuheriki River, as well as some exercise and lots of fresh air. A great time was had by all. 

Pedal pushing on the Otago Rail Trail

The rule of three…

Three loves

  1. Family, of course. I have two boys aged eighteen and eleven years. It’s great to see them grow up and develop, and support them through school and sport and whatever interests them. And of course my wife, Fiona.
  2. Coffee. Yes, I know it’s a drug. But I like it.
  3. Scotland/Caledonia/Alba/Ecosse—whatever you want to call it. It’s in my tartan blood/genes/history.

Pet peeves

  1. Some of the leucocratic nonsense we have to go through, not only in work, but also in our everyday life. Life’s complicated enough, keep it simple!   
  2. Umbrellas. They are fine if there is nobody else within four or five metres of you, but (maybe it’s because I’m tall) there’s always the danger of being skewered by one of the pointy bits or worse, getting your eye poked out. If you’re in a busy place with lots of people and want to keep the rain off, leave the brolly behind and get a good jacket with a hood!

Three things always in your fridge

Always in my fridge? Probably the usual stuff—milk, cheese, the shelves and the little light that comes on when you open the door. Oops, that’s four things!

Lunch with Visitor Asset Managers after meeting at Kahurangi Point Keepers House

Three favourite places in New Zealand

  1. Without having been everywhere it’s pretty hard to say. I do enjoy being in the mountains and above the bush line—on a fine day! I love the vastness of the country and the alpine vegetation, the snow tussock, speargrass, Spaniard, mountain buttercups and daisies and many other mountain herbs.
  2. I also love the wild West Coast beaches such as Wharariki in Golden Bay—the wind, the eroded sandstone arches, the changing sands and the relatively unspoilt wildness of it all.   
  3. I do like Nelson as an area. A great climate, a great variety of places to go—coast, mountains, plains, city etc., good mountain biking trails, great cafes and lots of friends to visit.

Favourite movie, album, book

It’s too hard to pick just one.

  • Movie: The Usual Suspects with Kevin Spacey, As Good as it Gets with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, and for a side-splitting laugh, Mr Bean’s Holiday with Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean.   
  • Book: I do enjoy a good historical conspiracy theory with a bit of drama. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown was pretty damn good, but again, there are so, so many contenders.
  • Album: I’d have to choose between Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones or Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan. But there are so many great albums out there.

Deep and meaningful…

What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?

With Stu Houston, installing new shelter at Holyoake's Clearing, Abel Tasman Inland Track

Enjoy what you do, and do what you enjoy! Think before you speak, its easier to bite your lip than to repair damaged relationships. Respect others.

Who or what inspires you and why?

I have recently been inspired by the British particle physicist Professor Brian Cox. He is a brilliant public and science presenter/broadcaster. To me, he is starting out on the path of doing for physics what David Attenborough has done for natural history. In plain, easy to follow language he uses the media to bring an understanding of science to the masses. In addition to his programmes Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe, and the comedy radio programme The Infinite Monkey Cage, Brian has worked on the ATLAS experiment on the Large Hadron Particle Collider in Switzerland and on modifying Newton’s law on gravity.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Mmmmm… that was a long, long time ago! I did want to travel and see the world, and I guess that in part led me to my time in the Royal Navy, where I spent most of my time deep down under the sea (how deep is a secret).

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?

I really enjoyed my Ranger job in Scotland. I would like to think that there would still be a role there for me, and that I could contribute to the conservation and countryside management back there. As a Ranger in the UK, I did a load more environmental education, public access work and management of reserves close to urban and populated areas, which I really enjoyed. I could do that again. 

If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?

With my love for the mountains (on a good day), I’d be a Chequered Alpine Snout Moth. I’d check out the alpine passes, breath in the cool mountain air, enjoy the vista and miss the wild, wet, cold and snowy winter, (because they only live from November to February). 

What piece of advice or message would you want to give to New Zealanders when it comes to conservation? 

Enjoy, appreciate and conserve what we currently have. It’s not just the fauna and flora, the landscape, the huts and tracks, the forest, the lakes and rivers and the ocean—it’s everything, including the smells and the sounds, the wind and the warmth, the time, the energy and the space. I believe many New Zealanders generally don’t really appreciate how fortunate we are and what we have in our own back yards. Too often it’s only when it’s gone that we realise what we have lost—and then it’s too late.