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Source: Auckland Council

Volunteers, businesses and schools working to help preserve the unique environment of the Waitākere Ranges have been recognised in the 2022 Love Your Place Awards.

More than 100 guests helped celebrate the mahi of these special people at an awards ceremony held at the Titirangi War Memorial Hall on 3 August 2022.

The awards are held every second year, thanks to the funding from the Waitākere Ranges Local Board and are organised by EcoMatters Environment Trust.

“Once again, we’ve been delighted to hear the stories of those in our local community who are so dedicated to enhancing and protecting our stunning natural environment. We’re honoured to celebrate those who are helping to preserve this very special place for us all to enjoy,” says Saffron Toms, Chair of the Waitākere Ranges Local Board.

EcoMatters CEO Carla Gee says the judges always find it difficult to make a decision.

“The calibre of nominations continues to be high and as judges, we are always humbled as we read about the difference all these nominees are making for this special place. We’re grateful to the local board for supporting these awards and helping recognise the mahi of those generously dedicating time and effort to the community and the environment,” says Carla.

Awards were given in five categories, recognising youth, school groups, businesses, volunteer groups and individual volunteers who have made an impact in cleaning up rubbish, pest control, planting and more. There were also two special mentions of groups doing great work locally.

The winners are:

Denise Yates Award

For youth (under 16) showing emerging leadership around local environmental issues

Winner: Jay Leighton is a keen conservationist who designed his own pest traps to protect New Zealand’s native species. He shared these designs with the Department of Conservation to ask for their feedback and was interviewed on prime-time television, to encourage others to do their bit. Jay joined the Oratia Primary School leadership programme Ngā Rākau Kaha and devoted his 20 hours of community service required for this to trapping pests at his local wetland.

Judges’ Commendation: Jasmyn Bensemann is a natural leader who is inspiring others of her age to get active, get outdoors and protect the environment. She undertakes pest plant removal and pest animal control and monitoring at home. Jasmyn has been an Arataki Junior Ranger for two years and uses these skills to help her care for the environment in our parks.

Denise Yates winner Jay Leighton with Brenda Yates. Credit: Eco Matters

Karaka Award

For a school or school group taking action on a local environmental issue

Winner: Woodlands Park School is a Green-Gold Enviroschool. The school community is involved in litterless lunches, worm farming and composting, bee-keeping, food growing, sustainable fundraising and native bush regeneration. They have been working with community groups and Auckland Council for more than five years now to help restore Titirangi and Waima. In the last two years they have planted 1000 trees at Tangiwai Reserve.

Judges’ Commendation: Laingholm School’s Outdoor Classroom and Gardening Club both play vital roles in the students’ environmental education. The Outdoor Classroom, led by Richard Kerr, provides a holistic and organic approach to learning outdoors. The Gardening Club led by Caroline McCartney, builds sustainability skills for future gardeners and sends surplus food and seedlings to the school community and a local free community pantry.

Judges’ Commendation: Henderson Valley School provides great opportunities for students and the wider community to connect to and take action for the local environment. Last year students worked at various locations along the length of the Opanuku Stream to carry out water testing and a rubbish clean-up.

Karaka winners Woodlands Park School with Saffron Toms. Credit: Eco Matters

Nīkau Award

For a business or social enterprise making a contribution to improve the environment

Winner: Sustinnoworx is a social enterprise which promotes a circular model while diverting textile waste from landfill. They trade in second-hand clothing, with profits going to support other non-profit organisations. Sustinnoworx also holds workshops and seminars teaching upcycling and facts about fast fashion and waste. They communicate accessible information through social media channels, to highlight essential information to change consumer behaviour.

Judges Commendation: Led by Geraldine Tew, The ReCreators is a social enterprise focusing on teaching upcycling skills to the local community as a way of encouraging people to be more sustainable and to help move our community towards a circular economy. The ReCreators teach in libraries, community centres, parks and carparks – places that are accessible to all. Sustainability is a clear thread of activism that runs through The ReCreators workshops.

Nikau winners Sustinnoworx with Charlotte Moore. Credit Eco Matters


For an outstanding volunteer group or organisation taking action on a local environmental issue

Winner: Pest Free Piha is targeting both invasive weeds and predators across Piha. They have organised a group of volunteer “Pest Warriors” that work enthusiastically to improve Piha’s ecological environment. Activities include wasp eradication/trapping, weeding and planting of the road corridors throughout the community, lupin eradication on the sand dunes, management of the weed bin funded by Waitākere Ranges Local Board, manufacture of traps, weed recognition and spraying programs and much more. Over the past three years, lupins have been eliminated from Piha dunes – last year alone 12,000 lupins were removed by volunteers.

Judges Commendation: BirdCare Aotearoa cares for more than 6,000 birds a year, most of which they help rehabilitate. Not only do they care for birds, they also care for the local native bush through pest animal and plant control, and by planting more natives. This is improving local conservation and biodiversity, providing more native wildlife habitat for food and breeding.

Judges Commendation: Len Gillman and Deidre Green are two outstanding individuals who are transforming Laingholm through driving a successful volunteer conservation movement. They are two of the early founders of Laingholm’s local volunteer conservation group Restoration Ruatuna. The group was started in 2018 by Laingholm residents who were responding to concerns about poor water quality at the beach. Thanks to their tireless efforts, the beach was made safe for swimming, the causes of the overflows were discovered and steps were taken towards a permanent solution.

RĀTĀ award Annalily van den Broeke with winner Kath Dewar from Pest Free Piha. Credit: Eco Matters

Kahikatea Award

For an outstanding individual volunteer taking action on a local environmental issue

Winner: John Staniland, is a former Kelston Boys classics teacher (Latin and Greek) of 40 years, who inspired his students not just on his topic but also on ecology, biology, botany, conservation and everything involved with New Zealand flora and fauna. In 2006 he was awarded a Royal Society of NZ Science, Mathematics and Technology Teachers Fellowship, which he used to research hihi (stitchbirds) in the Ark in the Park restoration project, of which he was also a joint-founder.

Outside of teaching, John was the founding Chairperson of Waitakere Branch Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society and has served as the Chair or Deputy Chair for 33 years. He was instrumental in bringing about the purchase of Forest & Bird’s Matuku Reserve (off Jonkers Road), a 120 ha forest and wetland sanctuary, in five stages over three decades. He also helped organise the purchase of another 37 ha of land in the Waitākere River valley, another forest and wetland restoration project known as Matuku Link. He’s actively involved in pest control and growing of eco-sourced plants for both these reserves, as well as helping with other local conservation efforts.

Judges Commendation: Guenter Niersbach has been an outstanding volunteer ambassador for the Kauri Rescue project over the last 12 months. As a landowner with sick kauri, Guenter wanted to treat his own trees, but since then he has turned out to undertake fieldwork treating kauri and monitoring their health every week during the last field season.

Judges Commendation: Graeme Carrie has led the Piha Ratepayers & Residents Association’s efforts to make the Piha Lagoon safe for swimmers for more than a decade now. This included routine testing for E.coli and liaising with Auckland Council. As a result, Auckland Council is now seeking consent to undertake work that will help flush the lagoon when it can’t be done naturally.

Judges Commendation: Nova Gibson is an eco-warrior who filled countless black rubbish bags with litter from alongside the walkways, cycleways, motorways and any public area. Her initiative to repurpose old fridges and convert them into kerbside mini-libraries is legendary in many suburbs, from Massey to Titirangi.

Kahikatea award. Robin Taua-Gordon with winner John Staniland. Credit: Eco Matters

Special Mentions

The judges felt two other nominees deserved special recognition for their mahi.

CatchIT-Schools: Karen Colgan and Kay Wight volunteer to deliver a programme to school children in the Waitākere Ranges providing hands-on trapping and monitoring experience. Karen and Kay have delivered this CatchIT-Schools programme for the children at Waitakere Primary School, Henderson Valley Primary School and Oratia Primary School. So far at least 1,000 Year 5 and 6 children at local schools have had the chance to become conservation scientists through this programme.

The Glen Eden Scout Group has long had strong ties to the community but it was close to closing down. Thanks to new leaders stepping in, the group is thriving again with close to 50 scouts now. The group contribute to local environmental improvement, through rubbish pick-ups which can net more than 20kgs in just a few hours. The group has a big focus on sustainability, oceans, climate change and conservation.