Yesterday was a historic day – 10 takahe, a critically endangered NZ bird, were released at Tawharanui Regional Park. They are stocky, tough birds. They lost the need to fly during the evolution of NZ into a wild life wonderland over the millions of years since we split off from Australia. There are some 280 left in the world, and we have 10 of them.
I happen to have the honour of being the Chairperson of the volunteer group that does stuff at the park. I was told I had an allotted speaking slot, last, as it happened. However, on the day, the weather and timing conspired to change the roll-out of events, so my speech was never delivered. Shame to waste all those words, so here it is:
My name is Ngaire Wallen, I am privileged to be the Chairperson of the Tawharanui Open Sanctuary Society.
I realise I am the last thing between you and afternoon tea, so I will be quick.
On behalf of TOSSI, welcome to special guests, especially those who have had a long journey to get here; to our partners from the Auckland Council; and to members of the public who have joined us.
TOSSI is the volunteer community, now in our 13th year, that works with Auckland Council in the development of this open sanctuary. We started with fundraising for the predator fence. Since then we have planted around 150,000 trees, grown from seed gathered on the Park. We have pulled out endless bags of weeds from the sand dunes, the bush and the cliffs. We have built things – bridges, a bird hide, walkways. We stuff envelopes, fill in forms, show people around the park, and pay for weed spraying. We invent machines to chop carrots at frightening speed. We spend cold evenings listening for kiwis, or days checking traps and tracking tunnels.
We could not have achieved what we have without our partner, the Auckland Council, and the public, who support planting days and workdays with heartening enthusiasm.
The work is literally endless. But it is not thankless.
Today we receive these precious birds knowing that we can and will take good care of them. They will find their own spot here to call home and join with other species that live happily and safely within this sanctuary. For us, it is the perfect reward for all the hours of hard work.
We are especially grateful to those who supported the fund-raising for this project. You are all important, however I am going to single out two, because each represents an important part of conservation work in New Zealand.
Firstly, the Tindall Foundation gave one of the earliest, and the largest donation, which gave us the confidence that we could achieve our goals. Stephen and Margaret are part-time locals in this area, as am I. Last year I asked Stephen if I could pick some of their grapefruit to make marmalade and he said yes. When this project came up, and buoyed by my previous positive response, I asked him if he could help and he said, with typical kiwi understatement “I’ll see what I can do.” Lots, as it turned out. We were placed in the tender hands of the staff of the Tindall Foundation, and within a week had money in the bank. Many conservation projects in NZ are now reliant on the generosity of organisations like the Tindall Foundation supporting an army of volunteers. Thankfully, it has worked well for us. And Stephen, the marmalade is on the way.
Secondly, we were delighted to hear from Whenuapai School. Some of the classes embraced the takahe release as a project and as I understand it, wove it into their delivery of the curriculum. Two girls, Lily O’Brien and Keira Sumner, organised the school–wide fundraising and joined us today to release one of the birds. For us, it is heartening to see the next generation of tree-planters, bait checkers and dune weeders participating in environmental conservation and having fun, as we do, while they do it.
In the words of painter Colin McCohan,
“you bury your heart, and it goes deeper into the land
you can only follow.
It’s a painful love, loving a land.
It takes a long time.”
PS: This morning I was on the first shift of checking on the location of the birds – we found the radio signals from all 10, and saw 6 quietly munching on the long grass, as if they had been there forever. Let’s hope they will be.