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“Speech­less” is the word Clare St Pierre used to de­scribe win­ning a ma­jor na­tional biose­cu­rity award.

Clare is the chair­per­son of the Piron­gia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restora­tion So­ci­ety, which scooped the New Zealand Biose­cu­rity De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion Com­mu­nity Award last week.

The group’s found­ing goal in 2002 was to re-es­tab­lish a self­sus­tain­ing ko¯ kako population on Mt Piron­gia.

“Peo­ple who lived near Mt Piron­gia re­mem­bered hear­ing the song of the ko¯ kako grow­ing up but it had died out in the 1980s and 1990s due to log­ging and in­tro­duced preda­tors tak­ing their toll,” Clare says.

“Our maunga was dy­ing be­fore our eyes and we wanted to bring it back to life.”

The group’s work has led to ko¯kako re­turn­ing to the moun­tain, the dis­cov­ery of ko¯kako with Piron­gia DNA and fund­ing of re­search into its ge­netic diver­sity.

It now man­ages pests at two 1000ha sites.

The group has in­spired wider pub­lic in­volve­ment in pro­tect­ing a key rem­nant population at O¯ kahukura within the North­ern Pure­ora For­est — a population now recog­nised as the strong­est in New Zealand.

The clas­si­fi­ca­tion for ko¯ kako as a species has im­proved from ‘threat­ened’ to ‘at risk’, thanks to the group’s work.

The group’s work was re­cently ac­knowl­edged by for­mer Prime Min­is­ter He­len Clark dur­ing a home­town visit to Te Pahu¯ last month.

Clare says the so­ci­ety was up against tough com­pe­ti­tion in the awards — The For­est Bridge Trust and Sanc­tu­ary Moun­tain Maun­gatau­tari were fi­nal­ists in the same cat­e­gory.

She says win­ning a na­tional award for biose­cu­rity was not on the group’s radar when start­ing the project.

“We didn’t re­ally con­sider that our drive to im­prove the out­comes for ko¯ kako, and re­lated na­tive bio­di­ver­sity, was linked to biose­cu­rity as well.

“When tak­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal or biose­cu­rity ac­tion, you ex­pect to work hard for a cause, not be paid for it, and prob­a­bly not see any re­sults for years to come.

“You do it be­cause the dire de­clines fac­ing our iconic species make it im­pos­si­ble for you not to do some­thing, and the fur­thest thing from your mind is whether you will be in line for an award.”

Clare says win­ning the com­mu­nity cat­e­gory is an en­cour­age­ment to other vol­un­teer groups want­ing to take ac­tion.

“None of us gets a salary for our work so we col­lab­o­rate like crazy to max­imise lever­age from the fund­ing we can raise to achieve our ob­jec­tives and to at­tract more vol­un­teers.

“For the Piron­gia ko¯kako project to win the award is a mas­sive tribute to the count­less peo­ple who have helped us over the years with pest con­trol, lo­gis­tics, mon­i­tor­ing, health and safety, field­work, con­sult­ing, fundrais­ing and re­port­ing.

“We couldn’t have done it with­out our amaz­ing vol­un­teers, DOC and iwi part­ners, fun­ders, pro­fes­sional ad­vi­sors and in­spir­ing lo­cals.”

Head of Biose­cu­rity New Zealand Roger Smith says the awards cel­e­brate iwi, en­vi­ron­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, sci­ence providers, com­mu­nity groups, lo­cal, re­gional and cen­tral gov­ern­ment agen­cies who are work­ing hard to help en­sure Aotearoa is safe from pests and dis­eases.

“Their mag­nif­i­cent mahi is fun­da­men­tal to keep­ing our biose­cu­rity sys­tem strong, and ev­ery day they are putting in the hard yards to en­sure we con­tinue to have a worldlead­ing biose­cu­rity sys­tem.”

The award win­ners in­cluded a wide va­ri­ety of in­ter­est­ing biose­cu­rity-re­lated projects from the pro­tec­tion of New Zealand’s ki­wifruit in­dus­try to in­no­va­tive prod­ucts like a por­ta­ble footwear clean­ing sys­tem.

“This year saw a record num­ber of high-cal­i­bre en­tries, mak­ing it very chal­leng­ing for the Award judges to se­lect these win­ners.”

“The New Zealand Biose­cu­rity Awards win­ners show that biose­cu­rity is not just up to Biose­cu­rity New Zealand.”

“Ev­ery New Zealan­der has a role to play in pre­vent­ing pests and dis­eases from get­ting into New Zealand or help­ing to stop their spread if they do get here. It takes all of us to pro­tect what we’ve got.”

En­vi­ron­ment South­land’s Fiord­land Marine Path­way Man­age­ment Plan took out the top prize, the New Zealand Biose­cu­rity Supreme Award.

Their project also re­ceived the New Zealand Biose­cu­rity Ea­gle Tech­nol­ogy Lo­cal and the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment Award.

The Fiord­land Marine Path­way Man­age­ment Plan, the first of its kind in New Zealand, aims to pro­tect one of New Zealand’s most unique and na­tion­ally sig­nif­i­cant ar­eas from marine pests be­ing car­ried in to the area on lo­cal and vis­it­ing ves­sels.

Photo / Sup­plied

Clare St Pierre (left), Sel­wyn June and Diane June from the Piron­gia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restora­tion So­ci­ety, win­ners of the New Zealand Biose­cu­rity De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion Com­mu­nity Award.

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