Craig Potton receives Forest & Bird's top award

Conservationist, photographer and publisher Craig Potton has received Forest & Bird’s highest honour with his naming as a Distinguished Life Member in recognition of more than four decades’ service to conservation.

Craig’s passion, creativity, and motivational and organising skills have made him one of New Zealand’s best known conservationists. These qualities remain undimmed nearly half a century after he collected signatures as a high school student for the Save Manapouri petition.

Craig received the Distinguished Life Membership award at Forest & Bird’s annual conference in Wellington on Saturday night (June 25). Forest & Bird President Andrew Cutler said Craig was active in many fields but had always had a special closeness to Forest & Bird.

“Craig has been a key figure in many campaigns, and always speaks out in a passionate, honest and strong way for nature. He is an elder statesman in conservation who deserves the highest recognition,” Andrew Cutler said.

Craig said he is proud to have joined fellow Forest & Bird Ambassadors Sir Alan Mark and Gerry McSweeney as Distinguished Life Members because all three were involved in some of the major campaigns of the 1970s and 80s.

He and Gerry McSweeney decided at university they would devote five years to trying to save the West Coast beech forests from logging and then would go off and do something else outside conservation.

“So 45 years later, the sunset clause still hasn’t been invoked,” Craig joked. The early days fighting for the beech forests remain as a highlight of the four decades.

“I’ve certainly been involved in some amazing campaigns and the greatest in my mind is the saving of the West Coast beech forests,” he said.

“That was the most emotional, the biggest roller coaster, the hardest campaign that we in the end won.”

Many major conservation campaigns have benefited from Craig’s influence and he served on the New Zealand Conservation Authority as Forest & Bird’s appointee for nine years. Among the achievements of those years were the creation of Kahurangi and Rakiura national parks.

He has held many executive roles with Forest & Bird and other conservation groups at the national, regional and local level.

Craig was a long-time member of the Forest & Board Board until 2014. Since 2011, he has been an Ambassador for New Zealand’s leading independent conservation organisation and was chairman of the Nelson branch for more than 20 years.

“On one hand, I’m in my sixties and should feel good about some of the things I’ve been involved in – and I do,” Craig said.

“But on the other hand you feel there’s climate change, what’s happening to freshwater and the oceans, and they’re things we’ve not got through yet.”

Craig is perhaps best known publicly for his stunning landscape photography, founding publishing firm Craig Potton Publishing (now Potton & Burton) and writing and presenting the two television series Rivers and Wild Coasts.