Wetlands restorer Wanda Tate awarded Forest & Bird’s Old Blue

Wanda Tate has been awarded Forest & Bird’s prestigious Old Blue in recognition of quarter of a century of work at the Pauatahanui Wildlife Reserve near Porirua, culminating this year in the return of rare fernbirds to the wetlands reserve.

Wanda Tate with Kevin Parker and a fernbird

For the last two decades Wanda has led the revegetation and nursery work at the 50 hectare reserve. Around 5000 plants were planted annually until recent years and Wanda regularly clocked up nearly 1000 hours work annually.

This work, along with the efforts of the predator control team, was crowned in April with the relocation of 22 rare fernbirds into the reserve from Taranaki. The regionally unique saltmarsh is now fringed by coastal scrub, freshwater swamp and regenerating forest where cattle yards, a go-kart track and demolition waste were once located.

“Wanda’s commitment to the reserve extends to nearly a thousand hours a year. In addition to scheduled working bees four days a month, she can also be found at the reserve most days of the week weeding and planting,” Pauatahanui Wildlife Reserve Management Committee Chair Robin Chesterfield said.

“Wanda joined the reserve committee in 1993 and had the initiative to test different approaches to planting, trapping and ecological succession, making the restoration planting the success it is today.”

The former teacher has also helped primary school groups and teachers use the reserve for education and encouraged community groups to visit. Her work was previously recognised in in 2009 when she was awarded Forest & Bird’s Golden Spade award, the Queen’s Service Medal and the environmental section of the Wellingtonian of the Year award but she emphasises the effort of all the reserve’s volunteers.

“I’m really proud of what the team has achieved. The results of all the planting and other work are starting to really show up. Last spring our kahikateas, which were planted in about 1989, flowered for the first time and that was a big tick for the progress we’ve made.”

But Wanda’s main focus is still on the future and she hopes to bring more fernbirds to the reserve next year, bringing numbers of the secretive birds brought from Taranaki up to about 40.        

Wanda was presented with her Old Blue at Forest & Bird’s annual conference in Wellington on Saturday (June 24). The Old Blue is awarded annually by New Zealand’s largest independent conservation organisation to people who have made a significant contribution to Forest & Bird or to the organisation’s conservation goals.

The award commemorates the last breeding female black robin which, thanks to work led by pioneering conservationist Don Merton, saved her species from extinction in the 1980s.