Forest & Bird: Nature’s voice since 1923

“… this fair country is in danger of being destroyed by the ignorant and the vandal, equally as it might have been destroyed by the enemy we fought so hard to exclude.”

Captain Val Sanderson

Captain Val Sanderson

Captain Val Sanderson’s strong words at a public meeting in Wellington on March 28, 1923, launched the New Zealand Native Bird Protection Society – the forerunner for Forest & Bird.

After returning from World War I, Captain Sanderson had become enraged at how rapidly New Zealand’s native birds and their forest homes were being wiped out. The last huia was seen in 1907, and even bird sanctuaries were being overrun by possums, rats and farm animals.

A former prime minister, Sir Thomas Mackenzie, was elected president of the new society, and the founders started recruiting members, raising money and raising hell about threats to native birds.

Ninety years later we’re still speaking up for nature. We’re now called Forest & Bird (since 1948) but we’re still a not-for-profit organisation, we still stand up for nature on land, in freshwater and in our seas, and we also encourage children to care for nature through our Kiwi Conservation Club.

We are proud of the many achievements Forest & Bird members have made to protect our wild places and our native plants and animals throughout New Zealand. We salute Captain Sanderson’s vision in 1923 to save our native birds, and we relish the challenges of the next 90 years.

What we’ve done since 1923

Many of New Zealand’s most precious unspoilt forests and other wild areas are protected thanks to Forest & Bird’s work. 

Our founding members wanted “efficient protection and preservation of our native birds” and “unity of control of all wildlife” because they saw that no single authority was serious about protecting areas of remaining wilderness.

When The New Zealand Native Bird Protection Society was launched in 1923,  member fees were 5 shillings (50c)  for an adult and 1 shilling (10c) for children

When The New Zealand Native Bird Protection Society was launched in 1923, member fees were 5 shillings (50c) for an adult and 1 shilling (10c) for children

The spark that led to the creation of Forest & Bird was the degraded state of Kapiti island – a bird sanctuary riddled with predators and browsers. 

The island was declared a sanctuary in 1897, however, on a visit in 1921 Captain Val Sanderson found it overrun with possums, goats and sheep.

Forest & Bird’s first conservation achievement was forming a proper committee to manage Kapiti Island and rid the island of wild goats and sheep so the native forest could regrow.

Another founding member of Forest & Bird, Perrine Moncrieff, lived in Nelson and worked to protect a significant coastal area at the top of the South Island. In 1942 the government followed up the petition she prepared and promoted by creating Abel Tasman National Park.

The Society also advocated for the creation of Paparoa and Kahurangi national parks and several high country parks and marine reserves. We helped extend Westland Tai Poutini National Park and have Te Wāhipounamu in the South Island recognised as a World Heritage site.

Waipoua kauri forest in Northland – the home of towering Tane Mahuta – was protected as a sanctuary in 1952 after Forest & Bird and local people campaigned to stop logging kauri and create a national park.

At times Forest & Bird has backed up its advocacy with generous sums of money. In 1976 we raised $25,000 to help the government buy Maud Island in the Marlborough Sounds. The island is now a predator-free scientific reserve that is home to endangered native birds, lizards, insects and a unique native frog.

Forest & Bird was instrumental in saving Lake Manapouri’s water level from being raised for a hydro dam. Our long campaign included presenting to Parliament what was in 1970 New Zealand’s largest petition – 264,907 signatures.

The Department of Conservation was created in 1987 after significant advocacy by Forest & Bird and others.

We have stopped native forests being logged, supported greater pest control, contributed to the recovery of endangered species, protected important areas from mining and improved the state of our freshwater.

Forest & Bird has never backed political parties and has stood up for nature as an independent, not-for-profit organisation in forums everywhere. 

Our volunteers have contributed hundreds of thousands of hours to restoration projects, animal and plant pest control and local advocacy for wildlife and wild places.

Several projects started by Forest & Bird have been taken over by new organisations and are thriving, such as Tiritiri Matangi Island Sanctuary, Motuora Island and Zealandia.

After encouraging in children a love of nature from the earliest days, Forest & Bird launched the Kiwi Conservation Club (KCC) for kids in 1988. Members receive a magazine five times a year and the chance to join local groups, and all children can learn about New Zealand’s native plants and animals through the KCC website.

In 2013 Forest & Bird’s 80,000-plus supporters, 50 branches and committee members, our staff and elected Executive are the strength of our organisation. We are proud of our long and successful heritage, and we will continue to speak up wherever nature needs a voice.