Winter is not my favourite season, I take no joy in the cold and darkness and if I had my way I would hibernate through it like a bear. However, with the arrival of spring my disposition changes and I become energised and optimistic once again. Spring on the Otago Peninsula though has its trials, and is best described by Mark Twain who once wrote “In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.” The changeable nature of the season is simply part and parcel of life on the Otago Peninsula.
The spring flowering of puawhananga (native clematis) marks the end of the winter and new beginnings for our wildlife here. The eastern inlets will see the arrival of the kuaka (Bar tailed godwit) from its migration from around the arctic circle in the northern hemisphere. Spring is a busy time on the Otago Peninsula for our wildlife as they begin to give birth and create new generations of their species. Because its not the stork on the roof that beings the pitter patter of tiny feet or flippers to the Peninsula but our sea lions, penguins, albatross and many other native species. It’s also a busy time for many staff and volunteers who devote their time and energy to seeing these species survive and thrive on the Peninsula. To all of you, my thanks.
Dunedin is extremely fortunate as a city to have the wealth of nature at its doorstep. Our ability to interact with wildlife is unique on the national and international stage. It does bring with it responsibilities around behaviour, activities and the nature of our interactions. I’ve recently seen examples of some pretty poor behaviour at Tomahawk and Smaills beaches involving vehicles in both areas. Both examples puts wildlife at extreme risk, not to mention local people using these areas also. The key to wildlife survival is the way in which we as humans behave and act. They are very simple things like, keeping your dog on a lead, not driving on the beach, giving animals space, not lighting fires and actually reading the signs at sites about what you can and can’t do. We welcome visitors to the Otago Peninsula, but your visit comes conditional of respecting our wildlife and landscape. Let’s have a great spring and a safe summer.
One of the great things about living on the Otago Peninsula and having children at a local school is you get to do some of the cool things that they do as well. I was one of two parents who took a group of children from Portobello School to Okia Reserve for “World Ranger Day” with the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust. Getting children out of the classroom and providing a genuine ranger experience was a great concept, but having pupils from the three Peninsula schools was pure genius. Like it or not there is a need for conservation groups to be prepared to pass on the mantle of stewardship onto a younger generation, and the earlier we do this the better. Peninsula kids are very fortunate that they grow up in a landscape inhabited by iconic wildlife species. We can only hope that this experience and their own inquiry will develop either empathetic citizens or active conservationists.
What I really enjoyed about the ranger day was the hands on activities that provided a genuine wildlife management experience. From exercises in measuring and identifying birds, to pest control and habitat creation, each activity was designed to show what really needs to be done in wildlife conservation. So much of what actually goes on in the field is unknown to the public, and to be able to provide that experience for our school children was a great experience. I’m sure many of the pupils will share their experience with their parents and family.
After events like this there’s always time to pause and reflect on some of the things that you take away from them. One of the big issues that stands out for me is how much the Peninsula relies on voluntary organisations and citizen conservationists to protect and advocate for our wildlife and landscape. The voluntary hours, fundraising and hard work put into places like Okia is quite staggering, and that is both comforting and concerning at the same time. It also highlights my view that the Peninsula Community Board has an important role to act as advocates and supporters for conservation groups in our district. That means using policy, planning and financial forums to ensure this critical work can continue on the Peninsula. After my experience at Okia it’s not difficult to understand just how important that role is and how rewarding it can be for our children today and in the future.