Ar­dent con­ser­va­tion­ists hon­oured

South Waikato News - - NEWS - By MATHEW GROCOTT

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’’.

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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.

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