Ardent conservationists honoured
Decades of dedication to the survival of New Zealand native flora and fauna were celebrated in Putaruru on Thursday.
South Waikato Forest and Bird held a luncheon recognising the achievements of several of its longest serving members.
Chief among these most revered environmentalists was Don Merton who is credited with saving several bird species from extinction.
Mr Merton received an Old Blue Award for outstanding work in conservation.
The award is named after a bird central to Mr Merton’s efforts to save the Chatham Islands black robin from extinction during the 1980s.
Also recognised were Don’s wife Margaret, Stewart Gray, Gordon and Celia Stephenson, Joan Bowman and Jack and Ann Groos who were all were given certificates of appreciation for outstanding conservation work.
Mr Stephenson was among several to pay tribute to Mr Merton at the luncheon.
‘‘If ever there was a person who was said to have made a difference it was Don Merton,’’ he said. ‘‘Don, thank you.’’ Along with his work with the black robin Mr Merton’s achievements include discovering the significance of the ritualised courtship of the kakapo, establishing a second population of the endangered noisy scrub-bird of Western Australia, devising a recovery strategy for the rare Mauritius echo parakeet and leading the successful eradication of rabbits from Round Island, Mauritius.
Round Island in the Indian Ocean is said to support more threatened species than any comparable area on Earth.
Mr Merton was instrumental in the designation of a national park on Christmas Island to protect Abbott’s booby and a unique raised tropical island ecosystem and he has played a leading role since 1974 in saving the kakapo.
Stewart Grey who has lobbied to have several areas of native bush placed under protection said: ‘‘I’ve saved a lof of areas – which I’m proud of.’’
However he told the gathering he wished more New Zealanders would take an interest in the bush.
‘‘It’s a pity now that the average person who goes into the bush doesn’t know much about our plants; they can’t name common trees,’’ he said.
Forest and Bird field officer Al Flemming presented Joan Bowman with her award calling her an ‘‘inspiration’’.
Mr Fleming paid tribute to her work planting trees in Jim Barnett’s Reserve in Te Waotu.
Mrs Bowman said she had been ‘‘a lover of trees all her life’’.
Last to speak was Mr Merton who told of a life-long interest in endangered wildlife.
‘‘As a whippersnapper in the 1940s it was Forest and Bird journals that informed me about endangered species.
‘‘Teachers told me I couldn’t make a living out of saving birds and to ‘get a real job’,’’ he said.
‘‘ I’m glad I didn’t heed that advice.’’
He said he was concerned that many endangered species were now dependant on humans for their survival.
‘‘ We must solutions.’’
Mr Merton said his work would not have been achieved without the support of his wife.
‘‘Without Margaret it wouldn’t have been possible,’’ he said. ‘‘She allowed me to go for months at a time chasing birds.
‘‘Many of my colleagues were not able to spend the time in the field that, thanks to Margaret, I was.’’
In the audience was Forest and Bird’s Barry Ward who said it was important to celebrate those who had made a difference.
He called those recognised at the luncheon ‘‘the great totara who have made an enormous difference to conservation’’.
LIFE’S WORK: Forest and Bird president Barry Ward (right) presents Don Merton with an Old Blue Award, named after Mr Merton’s own conservation work.