Colin Ryder, conservation champ
Retirement projects aid nature areas in capital
He has blackmailed politicians and been threatened with dismemberment, but Colin Ryder wouldn’t have it any other way.
The retired Johnsonville accountant has led the charge on some major conservation battles, including the contentious south coast marine reserve.
Ryder spent a career negotiating energy contracts and working for the Department of Corrections.
Since retiring he has applied the same skills to conservation projects on Mana and MatiuSomes islands, at Baring Head and more recently at Watt’s Peninsula in Miramar.
He has flown very much under the public radar while delivering a heavyweight contribution to conservation right across the region.
It took 17 years of planning and negotiations before the 854-hectare Taputeranga Marine Reserve was finally approved.
As convenor of the Marine Reserve Coalition, it was Ryder who talked to each stakeholder and proved to the Minister of Conservation that it had significant value and community support.
Having put the case to the minister it was a case of ‘‘ blackmailing’’ politicians to get it approved, he said.
‘‘That’s all part of the game, really.’’
Some local fishermen grumbled and one even threatened to pull off his arms and legs.
Fortunately he was foolish enough to give his name and address, and the police were able to intervene.
‘‘ Quite a few passions were aroused each way,’’ Ryder said.
‘‘These things are always contentious when people have to give something up, which is understandable.’’
Because the reserve was accessible and very close to the capital, he expected one day it would become a major tourist attraction.
Soon after joining Forest and Bird, Ryder applied for Conservation Corps funding to attack Mana Island’s pest problems.
He got $200,000, 11 youngsters and a supervisor for 11 months.
Mice were the only pest on the island but quite a big one, he said.
‘‘At the peak of the season there would be anything from five to 15 million mice on the island.’’
Bait stations were laid on a 25-metre grid over 90 per cent of the island and then a helicopter drop finished the job.
The campaign was 100 per cent successful and no mice remain.
It was at the time the world’s biggest eradication project, and is still one of the biggest mice eradications, he said.
Ryder has also applied his fundraising skills to conservation projects on Matiu/Somes Island mainly for bird and lizard translocations to the island and he was looking for funding for other projects there, including a new visitor reception space.
When land at Baring Head unexpectedly became available he leapt into action.
The property was up for a mortgagee sale when both the landowner and the finance company were bankrupted at the same.
During the tender period, Ryder raised money from the Department of Conservation, the Nature Heritage Fund, the Hutt City Council and got $200,000 from an anonymous benefactor. Then he persuaded the regional council to stump up the rest and buy the land.
He helped found the Friends of Baring Head who have worked with the council weeding, planting, and training volunteers to trap pests over the whole block.
Ryder personally ran a trap line to help protect vulnerable banded dotterel, catching the major predators – hedgehogs, as well as ferrets and a few cats.
His last big project has been Watts Peninsula in Miramar, above the old Shelley Bay air force base.
The Defence Force had owned the land, which had both conservation and heritage value from layers of military use dating from pre-European times.
‘‘They wanted to cover it up with upmarket housing which really would have munted the intrinsic value of the area,’’ Ryder said.
The Watts Peninsula Coalition was formed, and with some help from Sir Peter Jackson, the government was persuaded that the 70 hectares should remain in crown ownership.
‘‘Watt’s Peninsula is quite different to other stuff because most of the value is heritage,’’ he said.
The coalition wants the area to be managed locally by a trust, with the historic assets restored to a state where they can survive long term and be enjoyed.
It has fortifications that date back to the Russian scare of the 1800s and the military road that connects them is the only one of its type in New Zealand, Ryder said.
Ryder has two daughters and a son, and one granddaughter.
His real passion is craft beer and dealing with Government and councils was just a hobby, albeit one that made the most of his skills, which were sometimes underestimated.
‘‘When people in my position are talking to local council bureaucrat sometimes you feel they don’t take you seriously, which can be a bad mistake.’’
Almost armless: Conservationist Colin Ryder.