Forest & Bird honours inspirational South Otago branch

Protecting yellow-eyed penguins, advocating for marine reserves and restoring native bush are all in a day’s work for Forest & Bird’s South Otago branch, which has received the organisation’s new annual Branch Award.

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Although South Otago is one of Forest & Bird’s smallest branches, it has forged a path as the voice of nature in its region through work to conserve the local environment, protecting rare species, speaking up for marine reserves and promoting conservation and environmental values.

“The South Otago committee members are a vital part of a rural conservation voice and are leaders in their community,” said Forest & Bird’s Conservation and Volunteer Regional Manager for Otago and Southland, Sue Maturin. She described the achievements of the branch as “inspirational”.

The branch submits on regional policy statements and district plans and takes part in local government consultative meetings. Members have put the case for marine reserves as part of the South East Marine Protection Forum process, do predator control and restoration work at Forest & Bird’s Lenz Reserve in the Catlins and raise funds through the sale of native plants from their two nurseries.

The local community is encouraged to be involved in activities such as the Catlins Bats project, bird counts and predator monitoring and the branch re-established a Catlins Summer Programme earlier this year.

Branch members and supporters are kept well informed of local, regional and national conservation issues by a professionally presented newsletter.

The branch maintains over 100 predator traps for the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust at the colony at Long Point Reserve, and controls predators at the Penguin Bay and Owaka Heads penguin colonies, as well as the Department of Conservation’s Otanomomo Scientific Reserve.  A new project, the Long Yellow Ribbon, has the aim of planting kowhai along the Owaka River as part of riparian planting.

Branch chair Roy Johnstone said it was a pleasure to be working for nature in the area, with its dramatic coastline and the largest area of native forest on the east coast of the South Island in the Catlins.

“We’re lucky we have such a good place to work in and we have good projects coming on all the time. If someone has a good idea, they lead it and get the group in behind it,” Roy said.

“Everyone chips in, that’s the strength of it. It’s a really good team – we all have different skills which are complementary in getting things done.”

The Forest & Bird Branch Award recognises outstanding achievement by two of the organisation’s branches over the previous year in areas which can include restoration and project work, advocacy and submissions to local government, and running Kiwi Conservation Clubs for children. The other branch award announced at Forest & Bird’s annual conference in Wellington on Saturday (June 24) went to the Central Hawke’s Bay branch.