Flight to the top
“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.
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.