Russell Bell's service to Hutt Valley conservation honoured by Forest & Bird

Russell Bell has been honoured with Forest & Bird’s Old Blue award for his significant role in many of the most important conservation projects in and around the Hutt Valley over the last 40 years.

Russell had two spells as Lower Hutt branch chairman and his sense of urgency about the need to preserve and enhance nature has continued to grow over the last four decades.

“When I was young, we were trying to save bird species – never in our wildest dreams did we believe there would be natural systems, such as the climate, freshwater and marine environment falling apart in our lifetimes,” Russell says.

“Without those systems, we won’t survive, so conservation is more important than ever. Without our native flora and fauna, we would be living in a spiritual and cultural desert.”

Gerry Brackenbury, a Lower Hutt Branch committee member, said Russell had achieved a great deal in his work with the branch.

“As a long-serving member of the branch, he has worked tirelessly for both local and national environmental and conservation causes,” he said.

“One of his many strengths has been the ability to recognise threatened habitats and give them a voice.” 

Russell is particularly proud of his successful lobbying of the Greater Wellington Regional Council for the purchase of the Parangarahu (Pencarrow) lakes, Kohangapiripiri and Kohangatera. He describes the lakes and wetlands on the coast southeast of Eastbourne as a “fantastic” habitat which attracts rare bird species such as the Australasian bittern and spotless crake.  

Kohangatera is ranked 10th best lake of 206 assessed in New Zealand by the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) for its ecological condition and Kohangapiripiri is ranked 47th. The lakes have become popular destinations for hikers and cyclists now they are publicly owned.  

Among many other achievements, Russell instigated the creation of wildlife corridors to link the Hutt and Wainuiomata valleys’ ecological treasures.

As part of the plan to create connecting zones for wildlife, a corridor was established across the Wainuiomata Valley, and another across the narrow point of the Hutt Valley at Manor Park, and more land was transferred into reserves in the eastern Hutt hills.

While working at Manor Park, Russell noticed maintenance work being done on a nearby weir across the Hutt River. The weir restricted the passage of native fish upriver into the Hutt catchment and he persuaded the regional council to provide ropes and passages over the weir as part of the work. 

Russell now lives on the Kapiti Coast where he has become involved in the Friends of Queen Elizabeth Park which is undertaking revegetation and wetland restoration.