News | 10 September 2021

Community heroes in conservation: Simon Kennett

Pōneke recently celebrated the planting of its two millionth native plant, following a 20-year programme involving Wellington City Council staff and thousands of community volunteers.

Conservation Week/Te Wiki Tiaki Ao Tūroa is happening 4–12 September, so we’re highlighting some of the awesome people who have contributed to making our wonderful city greener.

A scrubby hillside with a dirt track running up the right side, and a team of people including one in a high-vis orange vest working to tidy it up.
Simon Kennett, pictured right in the orange vest, with other Mākara Peak Supporters hard at work planting podocarps.

Simon Kennett is part of Mākara Peak Supporters, a well-organised committee, planting, track-building, and animal pest control group. For every meter of track built, at least one plant has been replanted along the edges. The track network has allowed people to explore the regenerating forest.

One of Simon’s key projects has been planting podocarps throughout the reserve and monitoring the progress of them over time. We caught up with Simon, who says being able to plant in Council reserves for the past 25 years has been a gift that goes both ways.

How did you get involved in conservation?

My mountain biking buddy, Tim Galloway, introduced me to tree planting in the mid-1990s at Hinewai Reserve in Banks Peninsula. That led to some planting sessions with Forest and Bird in Wellington, followed by introducing tree planting to the programme at the 1997 Mt Victoria MTB World Cup.

The following year, my brothers and I were appointed to lead the development of the Mākara Peak Mountain Bike Park. Given that park is part of the Outer Green Belt ecological corridor, and people love riding in native forest a lot more than gorse and barberry scrub, we knew forest restoration had to be an integral part of the programme.

What’s your specific interest/how do you contribute?

The Mākara Peak Supporters was established in 1999 with a vision to develop a world-class mountain bike park in a restored native forest. Since then, I've been planning and organising tree planting in the park.

Initially it was all about planting out pasture before it was taken over by weeds like gorse, barberry and blackberry. Then our focus moved to re-establishing species that had virtually disappeared or were locally extinct – podocarps, Northern rātā, pukatea, kohekohe, tawa, nikau, maire, tītoki and hinau.   

What motivates you to do this mahi?

I love riding, walking, running or just being in healthy native forest. It would be brilliant if Wellingtonians could go for a spin in a forest filled with noisy native birds hopping from towering rimu to kahikatea to totara – and do that ride after work or in the weekend, without having to drive far (or at all!).

I'm particularly passionate about re-establishing podocarps because they were once such a massive part of the forest at Mākara Peak and getting them to thrive in significant numbers is a huge challenge.

What do you hope to achieve with this work?

Personally, I hope to see korimako (bellbird) nesting at Mākara Peak, in a diverse native forest that includes at least a thousand podocarps over four-metres tall, by 2040. And I hope people will remember that the transformation at Mākara Peak is the result of ordinary riders and residents pitching in, one seedling at a time – playing the long game for a prize that's just going to keep on getting better and better.   

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Imagining mature native forest at Mākara Peak is the stuff of sweet dreams. I'm confident of achieving that vision because I'm part of a big team of volunteers which is backed by Mākara Peak Supporters, Wellington City Council, Forest and Bird, and several trusts and sponsors.

Ways to get involved in conservation in your community