Forest & Bird honours Central Hawke’s Bay branch

Forest & Bird has awarded Central Hawke’s Bay its new annual Branch Award for its outstanding conservation and advocacy work, especially its staunch defence of nature in the face of plans to develop the environmentally damaging Ruataniwha dam and irrigation scheme.

The Central Hawkes Bay branch on a field trip.

“Central Hawke’s Bay Branch is one of our smallest yet most effective branches. They truly punch above their weight in terms of environmental advocacy locally, regionally and nationally,” said Forest & Bird’s Lower North Island Conservation and Volunteer Regional Manager, Amelia Geary.

The branch members have been involved in the dam issue since the first stakeholder meetings were held in 2010 and worked with the Hastings-Havelock North branch to highlight the threats to water quality in the Tukituki river catchment. They also worked with Forest & Bird nationally to highlight the implications countrywide of the Department of Conservation’s plans to downgrade the conservation status of land to be flooded for the Ruataniwha dam.

The branch led a letter writing campaign to local newspapers, held public meetings, challenged pro-dam regional councillors, and formed links with other concerned groups and politicians to put the case for the environment.

Branch Co-chair Grenville Christie described the award as a “real honour”.

“It’s also an endorsement of the approach we’ve taken, which is not only doing practical protection and enhancement work but also advocacy and being involved in wider environmental issues. We’re prepared to stick our heads above the parapet.”

Co-chair Louise Phillips added the award would be welcomed by members “who have put in a lot of work, such as writing submissions and getting involved in the local political process”.

Central Hawke’s Bay branch has also been working for conservation by controlling pests and weeds at Otaia/Lindsay Bush Scenic Reserve near Waipukurau with the support of Scouts, and the local community. Volunteers are now planting in open spaces once covered in ivy and other weeds.

Forest & Bird recognises and values the role of Māori as ‘Kaitiaki mō ngā whenua’ and is prioritising forging a closer working relationship with the local mana whenua in the coming year.

Branch members are also involved in work to monitor and protect the population of rare Australasian bitterns at Lake Whatumā, whio (blue duck) protection in the Ruahine Ranges and ensuring the safety of river bird nesting sites.

“These activities in the district ensure Forest & Bird is seen as not only an environmental watchdog but also a group of people that is hands-on when it comes to protecting the environment they love,” Amelia said.

The active advocacy and practical conservation work have gained the branch new members and supporters in recent years.   

The Forest & Bird Branch Award recognises outstanding achievement by two of the organisation’s branches over the previous year in work which can include restoration and projects, advocacy and submissions to local government, and running Kiwi Conservation Clubs for children. The other winner of the Branch Award announced at Forest & Bird’s annual conference in Wellington on Saturday (June 24) was South Otago.