Penny Willocks gifted a lasting legacy to nature on her death. By Caroline Bruner
Penny Willocks was an adventure racer, world traveller, tramper, radiation therapist, daughter, sister, auntie, and friend, who loved being in the forest and bush.
A version of this story was first published in the Autumn 2023 issue of Forest & Bird magazine.
In 2020, Penny was trekking through the remote 600ha Island Hills Station, North Canterbury, when she came across her first predator-free project.
The owners had established a robust pest-control programme to protect the native bush, which is protected by a QEII covenant.
Penny wanted to buy and donate some traps. But there was a problem – the traps could only be delivered to her home in Christchurch, more than 100km away. She couldn’t gift traps to Island Hills station or any other predator-control project in the country.
Penny lived life to the fullest, winning the two-day Coast to Coast and travelling to more than 60 countries and all seven continents. But, six months after walking the Island Hills track, she was diagnosed with cancer.
“Cancer would not change her,” says Penny’s mum Donna Willocks. “Even after her second operation, to remove the tumour, which left her partially paralysed, she never lost her sense of adventure and love for life.”
When Penny found out her cancer was terminal, she decided to give $10,000 from her estate to a predator-free programme. In lieu of flowers at her funeral, Penny asked people to buy a trap instead.
“We were blown away by the response from her friends and people in the community,” says dad Murray Willocks.
“Not only did they think it was a really good idea but they also wanted to help support her vision.”
Donna, Murray, sister Angie, and Penny’s friends worked to turn her $10,000 bequest and funeral donations into a website that could connect donors with predator-free groups in New Zealand.
The idea for Give a Trap® was born. The website allows people anywhere in the world to buy and donate traps to the predator-free groups in Aotearoa who need them most.
Give a Trap makes sure each trap is delivered directly to the donor’s chosen group, and donors receive regular updates about the trapping programme they’ve supported.
It’s a nifty new tool in the fight to help save our native flora and fauna from introduced mammalian predators such as rats, stoats, hedgehogs, and possums.
Thanks to Penny’s generous family, Give a Trap’s mission is about to grow a lot bigger.
Donna and Murray are donating the platform to Forest & Bird to manage going forward.
“Forest & Bird was the obvious partner. Its staff and volunteers know what they’re doing and have such a good network and are very well respected,” says Murray.
There are about 5000 predator-free groups in Aotearoa New Zealand, including iwi-led nature restoration projects. Most are run by volunteers, and all of them need support.
“We are honoured to receive this generous gift from the Willocks family in memory of their daughter Penny,” says Forest & Bird’s chief executive Nicola Toki.
“The Give a Trap website is a clever idea and a great way to support Predator Free 2050. We are very grateful to Penny and her family for their innovative and unusual donation.”
With more than 4000 species at risk of extinction in Aotearoa, the mission to rid New Zealand of introduced predators by 2050 is urgent.
“There are thousands of predator-free groups all over the country who need all the help they can get to push back the tide of introduced stoats, rats, and possums,” adds Nicola.
“Now every New Zealander can help trap these predators from the comfort of their own home, knowing their gift will go directly towards restoring our precious birds, bats, lizards, and insects.”
Knowing the legacy of Penny will live on in Give a Trap means a lot to her family.
“She didn’t know what this was going to become before she passed, but she would be very proud to know her vision has turned to this,” says Murray.
“Penny would be so proud her friends and family have pulled this off for her and that it will make a meaningful difference.”
Now, everyone has the chance to share Penny’s vision and drive to make a difference for nature.
Give a Trap | Save our Birds
You can find out more and buy a trap at www.giveatrap.org.nz