Restore Rodney East Interview

Sarah Churchouse & Tim Armitage

Sarah Churchouse is the facilitator at Restore Rodney East. With the help of conservationists Tim Armitage and Colin Binstead RRE strive to support the aspirations of over 40 conservation groups in the Rodney East area.

An initiative set up by the Rodney Board in 2021, Restore Rodney East assist conservation groups across the rohe providing resources, tools, advice, and support. RRE help across a diverse selection of projects from predator control and shore birds to sediment concerns and wetland restoration.

We caught up with Sarah and Tim to reflect on the conservation work being carried out across the Rodney East area and the challenges ahead for local conservation.

1. Sarah and Tim what in your opinion is the biggest conservation threat to the Rodney area

As Restore Rodney East has the privilege of working with so many groups and initiatives, we get to see a wide range of threats and how they all intertwine. Ultimately all the impacts we experience culminate in effects to the local waters – our awa, our estuaries, our bays, and the gulf. Whether it’s possums impacting tree vigour, stoats or rats disrupting bird-related cycles of seeding and fertilising, riparian and wetland re-planting needed to restore habitat loss, etc – eventually the success of our groups determines how much sediment is released into the harbours and how badly ecosystems including marine environments are disrupted. We need our seabed’s and seabirds back too!

2. How can people get involved and help a local conservation group?

There are so many ways people can get involved in local conservation, and it’s all about finding the right fit for your skill set or time. RRE can pair people up with a group who may well be in need of your skills. it could be a simple one off or an ongoing volunteering relationship. Simply making a donation is great for people with limited time, but those who have more can use almost any skill they have to be involved. Here are just some of the ways.

  • Bird Monitoring
  • Event Planning
  • Beach Cleaning
  • Tree planting
  • Advocating
  • Weed Clearing
  • Fish Monitoring
  • Future Planning
  • Educating
  • Bookkeeping
  • Protecting
  • Marketing
  • Water Testing
  • Sediment control engineering
  • Note Taking
  • Pest Management
  • Photography
  • Fundraising
  • Governance
  • Grant Writing
  • Data Management
  • Donations

3. Why do people volunteer?

Volunteering is not only good for others, but also for yourself. It can boost your health, happiness, and skills in many ways. Volunteering provides opportunities for social connections and companionship for many people. Many of our volunteers are retired and have skills required for organisations and groups to be successful. Some simply want to give something back to the environment. Without volunteers the environmental sector would be in grave danger of accelerating habitat loss and species extinction.

4. There are a lot of conservation groups, right across Rodney East, can you tell us more about this community of conservationists?

Rodney East has one of the highest concentrations of conservation-linked initiatives in New Zealand – there are around 45 groups and initiatives underway here today. Some are individuals working to make a difference, many are driven by pest free objectives, others seek to restore our rivers by effecting sediment reduction, and so on. We have several “landscape scale” organisations within the area (especially The Forest Bridge Trust!) as well as a series of sanctuaries, parks and reserves. Many local residents’ associations are pivotal in helping with all forms of conservation and restoration. Our region is rich (if that is the right word!) in endangered species and many initiatives are focused on restoring these taonga.

5. What is one thing that all these groups have in common?

The groups have a common goal of protecting, enhancing and restoring the environment regardless of their species specific or individual goal focus. I think we all aspire to embracing a kaitiakitanga approach to restoration even though we might only be looking at controlling a particular pest or weed.

6. What does Restore Rodney East do to help support local community conservation groups?

RRE is a support hub and is here as support for every group and initiative within Rodney East, big or small. We cover everything from helping groups crack through barriers to progress to education, helping with sourcing, promoting groups work to potential volunteers, enhancing collaboration, mentoring – you name it. For groups on the coal-face it can be hard to look up from what they’re engaged in day to day – RRE also endeavours to help to bring a big-picture perspective to our collective efforts and to present that to stakeholders.

7. Who makes up the RRE team?

Our team is very lean, by design. Our charter is to support local groups rather than to “do” the doing. So we have our one paid role (Sarah!) and a very strong governance team who all come from our local groups. The committee members are all very active in assisting with keeping RRE a vital organisation and get hands on involved in all matters of policy setting, fund raising, advocacy for groups, etc. Our chair and all our committee come from a wide spectrum of backgrounds and all are deeply vested in delivering on our charter, i.e. to help local groups reach their full potential. As a group we at RRE are fiercely independent of all external organisations as this is key to being a trusted and transparent party when it comes to dealing with issues, we all come up against.

8. What are some things that local conservation groups have achieved?

Our local groups are constantly making progress towards their own objectives and RRE is here in effect as an accelerator. So we have helped by bringing educators to events, profiled groups through local media to help attract new volunteers, worked as independent advisers to help negotiate terms and conditions within permits, made funding applications, set up a shared asset library for members to borrow, explored where additional / new groups could be needed to fill in gaps – the list is endless.

9. You have a Hui planned for April, can you tell us more about this event and what topics will be discussed?

This 30th April Hui at the Warkworth Town Hall is a pestival-style event but with a twist – we have managed to bring together a group of outstanding thought leaders and specialists from around New Zealand to help us see where we’re going. Big questions, such as the achievability of our PF2050 goals and the impacts of artificial intelligence on restoration, will be addressed. Speakers will cover animal behaviour, tech developments, cat management challenges, bio-control opportunities and aspects of estuarine restoration. Inquires

10. How is RRE Funded?

RRE was set up by the Rodney Local Board, initially with a 3 year funding commitment from 2021. In 2023 as we are all aware funding by Council is under review and RRE is seeking continually to find new sources of funds and grants to enable our work to continue as an independent group. Finding funds is always challenging – we are committed to not competing with our local groups & members in the same funding pools so this means we must cast far and wide to find the finances we need.

11. What is RRE’s vision for the next 5 years?

After one full year of operation RRE has been able to assist many groups in their restoration quests. But this is just the start and as we continue to accelerate we will be taking on more and more in the way of support initiatives. Long term our challenge is to help connect and cover the rohe through comprehensive coverage by a series of very well founded initiatives across the full spectrum of restoration work required – be it predator control, weed control, replanting, sediment reduction, or any other restoration action.

12. Can one back yard trapper make a difference?

Backyard trapping is the backbone of all our predator control programs! We plead that everyone finds a way not only to acquire a trap but also to keep setting it until the very last pest is out of our environment!

Sarah Quick Questions

  • Favourite bird – Keruru – Clumsy and fun
  • Worse predator – Rats (due to the number and distribution of them)
  • Describe your work day in three words? – Inspiring, Challenging, Rewarding
  • Best beach – Otarawao Bay (Sullivans Bay) Mahurangi West (during the week when nobody is around)
  • What you love about living in Rodney? – I have been here all my life, I love the native bush, and the amazing coastline, and islands we have, it always takes my breath away how beautiful it is

Tim Quick Questions

  • Favourite bird – Tieke / saddleback. My constant buddies when working in the bush
  • Worse predator – Controversial call – our furry home friends. We love them but they love eating our fauna even more
  • Describe your work day in three words? – Exciting, Coffee-Fueled, Fulfilling
  • Best beach – Anchor Bay (and childhood memories of Omaha/Mangatawhiri)
  • What you love about living in Rodney? – It has always been home and whether it’s the colours of the sea, the presence of our maunga, the potential of the bush to remain and be restored, the spirit of our local people and mana whenua, it is all glorious.