Forest & Bird honours island restorer

27 Jun 2011

Forest & Bird has awarded Alex Kettles its prestigious Old Blue award for his outstanding contribution to conservation through more than two decades of work on the project to restore Matiu/Somes Island in Wellington Harbour.

His award comes appropriately in the year when the Lower Hutt Forest & Bird branch project on Matiu Somes Island celebrated its 30th anniversary and a book A New Cloak for Matiu was published to mark the occasion. Alex was first involved in the project as a planter, and then in the rat eradication programme in 1988-89.

In 2002, he took over leadership and organisation of the working parties on the island and has given regular talks to community groups about the work to restore the native plant and animal life on Matiu/Somes.

“Alex has fantastic administrative skills, in the way he was able to organise volunteers for the project,” said Stan Butcher, a Lower Hutt committee member, and one of the original volunteers involved in the project.

His enthusiasm for the project extended to keeping photographic and video records and talking to local community groups about the work to restore the native plant and animal life on the island, Stan Butcher said.

The planting of around 110,000 trees over 30 years has transformed the mostly pasture covered island to an increasingly lush environment offering a home for rare species including giant weta, tuatara, kakariki and North Island robins.

Matiu/ Somes Island is also a favoured habitat for little blue penguins, reef herons, variable oystercatchers, spotted shags, little shags, black-backed gulls and other seabirds.

Alex Kettles was one of five people to be awarded the Old Blue at Forest & Bird’s conference in Wellington this weekend.

The awards are named for the Chatham Islands black robin called Old Blue which was the last productive female of her species by the late 1970s. The efforts of Old Blue and a Wildlife Service team led by the late Don Merton means the population has recovered from a low of five to around 200 today.