Kahurangi champions win Forest & Bird award

 Bill Rooke and Maryann Ewers of Motueka have been named as winners of Forest & Bird’s prestigious Old Blue award for their passionate advocacy for conservation and the Kahurangi National Park.

Kahurangi Champions

Kahurangi Champions

They have been guiding visitors in Kahurangi National Park since 1993 with their Bush and Beyond guided walks business and have been organising predator control in the park since 2001. The award was announced at Forest & Bird’s annual conference in Wellington this weekend.

“They are the most amazing couple, they are genuine to the bottom of their toes and people just love them,” says the chairperson of the Golden Bay Branch of Forest & Bird, Jo-Anne Vaughan.

“People respond because they are very passionate and knowledgeable. Many people going on their trips who are being exposed to the environment for the first time go on to become active in environmental issues.” 

The couple set up the Friends of Flora group in 2001 after noticing the decline in birdlife in the Flora Stream catchment of Kahurangi National Park. After 10 years the group had grown to around 100 volunteers, who are servicing 590 trap stations on an area over around 5500 hectares.

Through their business they also started trapping work near the adjacent Cobb Valley, linking with another group doing pest control work there.

The Friends of Flora also reintroduced whio, or blue ducks, into the Flora catchment as well as great spotted kiwi.  

The whio are now well on the way to establishing a sustainable breeding population following the first successful fledging for 12 years of ducklings in 2007. Further juveniles have been released in the area to boost the population.   

In 2010, 12 great spotted kiwi were released into the Flora catchment, from the Clark River area of Kahurangi.  Funding from the Lotteries Board has allowed the monitoring of the kiwi and training of Friends of Flora volunteers in monitoring work.

Bill Rooke and Maryann Ewers are now stepping back from their intensive involvement in managing the Friends of Flora and their many supporters welcome the opportunity to recognise their huge contribution to conservation. 

“Now they have taken more of a back seat role with Friends of Flora, it is a great time to recognise what they have done,” Jo-Anne Vaughan said. 

The couple was among four Old Blue awards announced at Forest & Bird’s annual 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 enabled the population to recover from a low of five to around 200 today.