Forest & Bird has lost one of its great stalwarts and tireless workers with the death of Ken Catt QSM in April at the age of 93. By Michael Pringle
Ken was a member of the British Airborne Services and served in the 1956 Suez Crisis before emigrating to Aotearoa. In New Zealand, he worked in the boating industry and was President of the Boating Industries Association, where he saw first-hand the damage being done to the marine environment.
A version of this story was first published in the Winter 2023 issue of Forest & Bird magazine.
Upon his retirement, he began to get active in Forest & Bird. He became Secretary of the Waitākere Branch in 1990 and was “a real powerhouse”, according to the branch, which he chaired for three years. Ken was also on the National Executive of the Society, where he convened the animal pest committee, and served on the marine and administration committees.
Chief among his conservation interests was a concern for marine life. Ken initiated a successful campaign, with the support of his branch and a local bird rescue organisation, to use funds accumulated from a government levy following an oil spill incident.
In 1994, this led to the establishment of a centre for the treatment of oiled and injured wildlife, known as the New Zealand Wildlife Rehabilitation Trust. This was based near Auckland Zoo and initially run by the Department of Conservation. Later, it moved to Massey University, where it remains to this day.
Ken served on Auckland’s regional marine reserves forum and prepared many submissions on ocean issues. When he received his Old Blue Award in 1998, the branch noted with appreciation his “prodigious” attendance at hearings and dogged persistence with submissions, including at least 100 on the Waitākere District Plan.
He also promoted plans for a West Coast Marine Park, but these did not go forward after strong opposition from commercial fishers.
Together with Dr Peter Maddison, Ken successfully lobbied for the establishment of a marine reserve at Pollen Island, within sight of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, in 1996, and participated in a group that was successful in stopping the Ports of Auckland from dumping in the shallow waters of the Hauraki Gulf.
In the late 1990s, Ken and Mike Percy, of the Waitākere Branch, campaigned for DOC to save the Hector’s dolphin, which Ken had learned was in danger of extinction.
He persuaded the then Minister of Conservation, Sandra Lee, to declare the species endangered in 1997 and allocate funding into research on the population size and locations.
A set net ban was declared on the whole coast on the west of the North Island where the dolphins had been sighted. For this, he was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by the Society.
Ken supported the Society’s work in many areas, including the protection of West Coast forests. In addition to receiving an Old Blue, he was made a Distinguished Life Member in 2001. In 2005, he was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal for Public Service.
Ken passed away in April 2023 at Waratah Retirement Home, Auckland. He was the dearly loved husband of the late Patricia Catt and step-father of Lynne and Mike. He will be greatly missed by the Society and his friends in the Waitākere Branch.