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20 Years of People Power

9th April 2015

20 Years of People Power

Wellington, NZ – Wellington may now have it’s own world-class urban eco-sanctuary enabling the dispersal of native wildlife throughout the city, but this wasn’t always the case. According to sanctuary founder Jim Lynch, back in the early nineties the concept of a fully-fenced sanctuary in Karori was seen by many as “a great idea but hopelessly impractical.”

“I still had to face a lot of scepticism, even from conservationists,” says Jim. “At the same time some pretty amazing advances with pest eradications were happening and we all had a real sense of optimism that some big breakthroughs were imminent and could change the game significantly.”

So how did the Karori Reservoir go from being an operational water supply area to a fully fenced active conservation site?

The short answer: people power.

Hundreds of volunteers have been involved with ZEALANDIA in some way or another over the years, contributing hundreds of thousands of hours towards transforming the valley nearer to its pre-human state.

People like Tony and Helen Griffiths have watched as the sanctuary “changed from a dream, and a small group of enthusiasts, to an exciting reality.”

Tony started volunteering at the sanctuary in 1995, becoming involved in weka feeding and possum trapping. Helen followed in 2000, and between them they have helped with weeding/planting bees, fence monitoring, bait/trap stations, bird monitoring, kaka feeding, telemetry work and much more. They were even able to go with sanctuary staff on a kiwi-capturing trip to Kapiti.

Helen recalls some of her special moments, “finding my first tīeke nest in a hollow fuchsia, releasing one of the first North Island robins, having the opportunity to capture kiwi and bellbird on Kapiti, and on three successive Saturday night ‘kiwi counts` we saw kiwi – once right at my feet, pecking my boot!”

It’s memories like these that keep people coming back to help. Volunteer Guide Des Smith remembers conducting a night tour in French, to 16 visitors from all over France. “[It was a] very clear night where the night sky with a crescent moon reflected in the top lake and we also saw 3 kiwi on the tour and other wonderful sights.” Des remembers another pretty unique tour: “the tour with the naturist group! A really neat bunch of people naked in the bush.”

Mixed with these special memories is a strong sense of achievement and pride. Volunteer Julia Bracegirdle has been involved with the sanctuary for nearly 20 years and says her favourite thing about the place is “the dream - the vision - and seeing it come to fruition. I hoped the idea of a Sanctuary would work and now I can bask in the knowledge that it has. We risked and won!”

On average, people in New Zealand spend 13 minutes per day in volunteering activities, the highest in the OECD where the average is 4 minutes per day. Some volunteers, like Pam Fuller, have been bumping up those statistics for years.

Pam is a foundation member of the sanctuary, having worked for the organisation as a volunteer since 1993, and in a paid capacity as part-time office assistant, Volunteer Coordinator and more recently convenor for the Guide, Host and Skipper Group. Her past experience includes volunteer work in Playcentre, member of the Wellington Education Board and board representative on Teacher’s College Council and Mana and Tawa Board of Governors. This impressive resume hasn’t faltered Pam’s humbleness however, "I've just done what I've done because it's an interest and I love it."

Pam remembers fondly the opening of the office and then-visitor centre in 1995 with a BBQ and picnic. “The Lions [Club], who had done the painting and helped with other practical work etc, cooked and sold hot dogs and drinks. At that stage Waiapu Road was much less developed with little or no parking so people parked at Ian Galloway Park and the Community bus ran a shuttle service to the office. Lots of people walked and it was a great sight to see them coming up the road with their rugs and picnic baskets. A special moment and celebration!”

2015 marks the 20 year anniversary of the Karori Sanctuary Trust, ZEALANDIA’s governing body. These are just a few of the stories and memories surrounding ZEALANDIA, by just a few of the many, many individuals involved.

As Julia puts it, “I have gained as much as I have given by being involved in Zealandia. I was positive it would be a success and I have been rewarded over and over for my mindset. All in all, I can't think of a better use of my time than volunteering in Zealandia.”


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