Our Natural Capital won the Local Government New Zealand EXCELLENCE Award for Environmental Impact when the awards were announced in Christchurch on Monday night.
“Our Natural Capital has struck a chord with Wellingtonians who want to make the city a better environment,” says Wellington Mayor Justin Lester.
“Tens of thousands have got on board with the aim of restoring the capital’s native species and it’s fantastic to see so many communities wholeheartedly involved.
“It’s a credit to those communities and also Council staff who have been involved.”
Councillor Andy Foster, who holds the predator-free portfolio, says it has been a sustained journey involving many community partnerships over some 26 years.
“Many of the great initiatives have their origins in the community, such as the Zealandia eco-sanctuary and Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park.
“Predator-free groups have sprung up faster than spring-loaded traps. Without all that community passion we would not be where we are today. This award is for all those wonderful people who get their hands dirty day in day out, making a difference.
“Council has stepped in to help where it can and our ongoing work in land acquisition and protection has also been key.
“However, this long journey is not by any means complete. We have big goals to make Wellington predator-free and to restore the city’s natural capital.”
Councillor Peter Gilberd, who holds the natural environment portfolio, says the programme builds on decades of work re-establishing bush in Wellington.
Credit also needs to go to the Greater Wellington Regional Council as well as the city’s culture of pitching in, he says.
“People have a commitment to the environment and that is reflected in the way they look after their gardens, and carry out voluntary restoration, often with their school, company, church, youth organisation, or neighbourhood group.
“And the leadership shown by Council officers has been terrific.”
Senior Park Ranger Steven Peters says the great thing about the award is the exposure it will get and that other councils may use the strategy as a template.
“It is inspirational and challenges us to do more. It also gives us an enormous sense of pride in what we can and will achieve,” he says.
As part of the programme, Council has taken a leading role in biodiversity management, including predator control, threatened species protection, community engagement and cutting-edge research into the challenges facing native wildlife in an urban setting.
More than 5000 households are now predator-trapping in their backyards, more than 120 community groups involved in ecological restoration and about 1.6 million native plants and trees already planted.
There has been a significant increase in native bird life in Wellington, including populations of kākāriki (parakeet), tūī, kākā and kererū.
LGNZ judges praised the programme’s strong community engagement and well-defined measurable targets with a scientific basis.
LGNZ President Dave Cull said the project was successful due to its broad approach, not just at Council level but within the whole community.
Our Natural Capital was one of the council projects which showed significant achievement and reflected strong leadership and innovative work being delivered by councils across the country, he says.
“Overall the judges felt that the strongest entries demonstrated a strong strategic focus, clear outcomes, measured results, cost benefit analysis and engagement with external organisations – particularly a collaborative approach with stakeholders, and meaningful engagement with iwi and Māori.”
Wellington City Council’s Water in an Emergency collaborative project with neighbouring councils was also a finalist in the EXCELLENCE Award for Delivery and Asset Management.