Founding Trustee Ian Wilson Retires

Founding Trustee Ian Wilson retired from the Puketi Forest Trust Board at our AGM in November 2021 after more than eighteen years of sterling service.

Ian’s interest in the forest goes back much further than the early days of the Trust.  Ian and his wife June moved to a dairy farm on Puketi Road in the early 1980s.  According to his brother Lindsay, Ian was very focused on increasing production and saving money (not necessarily in that order) and was somewhat bemused by all the botanists and birders who kept coming to his farm to ask for access to Puketi Forest.  One day Ian went with them to see what all the fuss was about and had his eyes opened to the wonders of Puketi – particularly the variety of native plants.  At that time Puketi was a stronghold for kōkako and much of the research was directed at why and how the birds could be saved.  One of the researchers who Ian credits with sparking his interest was a young and recently graduated Dr Peter Bellingham, who now works for Manaaki Whenua and is undertaking forest monitoring in Puketi again this year, some 40 years later.

Once the spark was lit, Ian was hooked.  He fenced off forest on parts of his farm and covenanted them and spent much of his spare time (and some which wasn’t spare) exploring the forest and making new finds.  When the founding trustees were being nominated, Ian was an obvious choice.  Gary Bramley says, “As an ecologist I have always been impressed by Ian’s knowledge of the local flora and fauna – far better than mine!”

Gary continues, “In 2002 Ian and I were both members of the Far North Branch of Forest and Bird and we were concerned about the state of Puketi Forest – birds such as kōkako and kākāriki had disappeared within our memory, kiwi were declining and attempts to release pāteke (brown teal) and female kōkako to supplement the population had failed.

“Initially we directed our concern at the local (Pēwhairangi) Department of Conservation office, but it soon became clear that they were never going to secure the funds needed to restore Puketi the way we wanted it done.  Ian and I, with encouragement from Rod Brown and the rest of the Forest and Bird committee, held a series of public meetings to talk to tangata whenua and landowners about Puketi and see what support was available locally.  This culminated in us establishing a trust charter and launching the Trust at Ian’s farm in October 2003.  At one of our meetings a local farmer asked how much money we needed to kick it off and run it for six months.   I named a figure.  He wrote the cheque out then and there and Ian’s only comment to me was ‘you should have doubled it’.

“Throughout his time on the Trust, Ian’s focus has been very much operational.  He has managed the contractors and volunteers and put in enormous hours auditing trappers, doing five-minute bird counts and checking rat monitoring lines.  I would guess that the highlight for him was in 2009-2010 when we travelled to Rangitoto Station (near Otorohanga) with other Trust members (including Jock and Tricia Hodgson, whose fantastic catering for the group made the trip a success) and brought home 60 toutouwai (North Island robin) for release at Puketi.  The descendants of those birds are now spread throughout the forest and regularly seen and heard.

“When we did our first expansion in 2006 we were assisted by the New Zealand Airforce who undertook helicopter drops in the forest as a training exercise free of charge.  Organising this was an enormous amount of work for Ian, and to his credit, it all ran like clockwork – apart from one instance where an airforce officer told us both to, ‘Don’t just stand there looking, come here and help lift this NOW!’  The local territorials helped transport trap boxes from the drop points to where they were needed in the forest.  When they came out after a day under Ian’s instruction I commented to one of them, ‘You look absolutely had it.’ and he replied, ‘No, no, I could easily go another two or three minutes’.”

Ian and June’s son David was recruited as a Trust trapper for several years before he became too busy with farm work and family life, and Ian has made sure his grandson Craig has accompanied him into the bush and learned how to trap stoats and monitor birds – succession planning at its best.

Ian would not have been able to devote so much time to the Trust without the support of his wife June, who ran the farm (and worked the computer) when Ian was “in the bush” again.  June also did significant work for the Trust behind the scenes, keeping records, organising newsletters and handling phone calls.  This dual commitment was recognised when Ian and June were given life membership of the Trust in 2019.

The Trust farewelled Ian and June at the 2021 AGM with a small kauri clock as a token of our appreciation for all the hard work they have put in and we wish them both a very happy and well deserved retirement. Ian was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for services to conservation in the 2022 Queen’s Birthday honours list.  Congratulations to Ian for a most deserving award.