It’s been a busy 12 months for the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary, with multiple staff changes and plenty going on behind the scenes. Kate Russell talks to chief executive Ru Collin about the successes and challenges of 2019, and what 2020 holds.
Tell us about the progress the sanctuary made in 2019.
After two years focused on pest removal, we’re entering a phase of why we’re here – to supply a plot of land which supplies the wildlife within to not just survive – but thrive, and to introduce lost species.
We’ve achieved more than we hoped and we’re in a pretty positive frame of mind.
Project wise, we’ve enlarged our walking track network. We’re extending two tracks and will continue to put in additional tracks over the next two years. Our lower valley loop track will be completed soon.
It’s been three years in the making, with 3000 volunteer hours and half a million dollars going into it. This includes a new footbridge over the top of the main dam, which will be opened in mid-February. We also have refreshed signage going in soon – about 100 new signs to improve wayfinding and to highlight special sites and points of interests.
Were there many staff changes?
The staff and board changes were significant, with myself coming in as chief executive in May and new chairman Chris Hawkes starting in April. A lot of long-serving people stood down.
We looked closely at the skills we needed around the table to help us and that’s been a feature of this year.
What were the main challenges in 2019?
We’ve had a few disappointments. It’s been a year that’s been very hard in terms of what the weather has thrown at us. A spring mega mast dropped a lot of seeds, which is a food source for the pests we don’t want in there.
We’ve been tested with mice, rats and weasels and it’s been a constant battle keeping them out. We’ve had a long four months of being on high alert, but it’s been a good test for our systems and processes.
What species will you be introducing this year?
The first species we are looking at is the orange-fronted parakeet and then the saddleback. Hopefully, all going well, we will have these species in by June.
We would have loved to have got rowi (brown kiwi) but we had to decide on accepting them against being free of rats. It was a hard decision and very disappointing as we were on the cusp and the volunteers and staff had almost finished kiwi proofing the site. But we’ve got to move on. They will be here one day, but not now.
Currently, entry into the sanctuary is by donation. Will you be introducing an entry fee?
We plan to start charging the public this year. I know it’s a community project, but it’s becoming a reality that we’ll need to move to that direction. There will be set rates for out of towners and reduced rates for locals, and under-fives will be free.
People can also join as a supporter and pay an annual fee – which works like an annual pass.
What else will 2020 bring?
It’s going to be a busy year in education. We’re looking to appoint an educator and really start pushing the education space again and the outdoor classroom for schools to use. We’re also going to work with DOC, i-Site and the museum more and work on fundraising and securing grants.