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20 Years of Conservation in the Capital

20 Years of Conservation in the Capital

It’s the artists, writers and visionaries who have always tried to articulate just how important wild spaces are for nurturing the human soul. Artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, who with brush, canvas and a sense of wonder, rendered an upward-soaring, moonlit-bathed tree trunk against a backdrop of stars. Naturalists and writers, like UK academic Robert Macfarlane, who said “We are fallen mostly into pieces, but the wild returns us to ourselves. ” And one of France’s favourite sons, author Gaston Bachelard, who wrote, simply, “In the forest, I am my entire self. Everything is possible in my heart, just as it is in ravines.”

Then there are the visionaries, no less poetic, who understand a beckoning wilderness – people like Wellington resident Jim Lynch, QSM, who from 1990 – 1995, managed to sell his dream of a fenced, urban sanctuary, and see it evolve into ZEALANDIA, Wellington’s pride. Jim, now retired and living in Waikanae, remains humble about his achievement. He’s adamant that he was just a small cog within a much larger group effort. “I feel so lucky to have been a part of this project. There was a lot of worry in the first few years, and it’s only in the last 5 years that it’s started to feel safe. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it.”

He has many personal highlights, including the determination of ZEALANDIA’s many volunteers to see the project succeed. “You have to understand that it wasn’t all luck. We did a lot of research, and there was a solid, sound plan behind it all.”

Jim would have found a kindred spirit in naturalist Henry David Thoreau, who thought nothing of walking 8 miles to visit his favourite trees. Jim too has his favourite ZEALANDIA trees, and he checks up on their growth and progress when he has time to visit the sanctuary. “The two major aspects of ZEALANDIA have always been, for me, the healing of the valley, restoring it as best we can. There are other valleys in the Wellington area without birds, and you can sense the lack of something. Those are not healthy places.” He’s particularly fond of the tuis, and he loves the profound enjoyment that visitors get out of visiting the sanctuary. “Secondly, thousands of people who would not otherwise have been involved in conservation have come here and been inspired towards it – either here, or in some other way, in their own parks and towns.”

“There are other valleys in the Wellington area without birds, and you can sense the lack of something. Those are not healthy places.”

Twenty years ago, there wasn’t much to delight the senses in the Karori Valley. Much of the original forest had been burned and turned into agricultural land. There was also a short-lived gold rush near the Karori tunnel, in 1869, before the area was set aside as the catchment for Wellington’s water supply. There were few birds, if any. When Jim took prospective funders to the valley, to show them what could be, they were often puzzled. Twenty years later, the abundance of birdlife has exceeded all his expectations.

Pam Fuller, a foundation member of the sanctuary since 1993, and a ZEALANDIA volunteer since the early phases of eradication, clearing and planting, agrees that what has been achieved in two short decades is nothing short of miraculous. “During the first phase of eradication, we had to be at the sanctuary at 5am. There were such special occasions where people went the extra mile. We formed strong friendships along the way, and we all have memories of hard times. Nobody got paid – it was all done for love.”

According to Pam, many of her fellow volunteers see ZEALANDIA as a place of solace. “A friend of mine feeds the birds once a month, and she says it’s like feeding her soul.”

ZEALANDIA today is an urban oasis, a place for bird lovers, families, brisk walkers, tourists, stressed city dwellers and amateur botanists. Children from 2 to 102 are charmed by coos, warbles, squawks, the occasional flash of an iridescent wing, dappled forest light and winding trails that hold promises of secrets yet to unfold.

Ongoing challenges include fence maintenance and pest control, particularly of mice. The rodents continue to exploit flaws in the fence mesh, but their population has been maintained since 2004 at levels 80-90% lower than previous levels by an annual ground-based poison operation in order to minimise impacts on native fauna.

According to Ian Phillips, ZEALANDIA’s commercial development manager, the future looks rosy, but there’s still a lot of work to be done, and there’s little room for complacency.
“We’re dedicated to making ZEALANDIA run efficiently as a business, and we’re continuously developing different channels of business through the cafe, functions and tours. Most of our revenue comes from visitation.”

He says the ZEALANDIA team is currently exploring seasonal interest themes for visitors. “We’re keen on things that will encourage people to return, to see changes and growth. We’re also looking at projects to develop facilities. It’s all about learning to love what we have here. It belongs to the people of New Zealand, and the work being done here is internationally significant. ZEALANDIA is internationally significant. We want people to realise what they’ve got, and to embrace the asset.”

Written by Pamela Kimberg
Jim and Eve Lynch. Photo by Dominion Post (main image).
Volunteers lending a helping hand in 1996.
ZEALANDIA from above. Photo by Rob Suisted.

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