The story of Zealandia is told by its founder

25 September 2019

Two decades ago, construction began on a fence around a piece of Wellington bush which even its backers weren’t entirely sure would work.

Kaka.

The Karori Sanctuary was a ground-breaking exercise in fenced eco-sanctuaries, urban conservation and community conservation, and was the first substantial piece of the New Zealand mainland to become predator-free.

Now called Zealandia, it has been the inspiration for over 30 predator-fenced sanctuaries.

More than 80 community sanctuaries with similar objectives have emerged since then and are now protecting over 44,000 hectares of high biodiversity value land on the mainland. It is also responsible for the remarkable recovery of native birdlife in Wellington.

The man behind the success story, Jim Lynch, has written a book on how it came to be, and the title, ‘Zealandia: the valley that changed a nation’, reflects its ambition and achievement.

“When I proposed that the Karori Reservoir be turned into a mainland island, using largely unproved ideas, a lot of people thought I was crazy,” Jim says.

“But we never had any doubts that it would work, even when the bulldozers were driving the fence line down past our home in Karori, and my wife Eve and myself had a sinking feeling that we had reached the point of no return and it had better work or we would have to leave town.”

But it did work and it is now a fantastic success. Zealandia has just been selected by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 best places in the world to visit. It hosts more than 140,000 visitors each year, and figures released last week show native bird life in the capital is soaring.

It is achieving its restoration goals, is a centre of community engagement, a learning and research hub, a major visitor attraction, and is now an economic success story. It’s now nearly self-funding and returning great economic benefits to the city.

It has also been widely copied. After 30 years, the innovative business model and concept have been proven to work. 

Zealandia launched a national community eco-sanctuary movement.

The community eco-sanctuaries have collectively brought tens of thousands of people and hundreds of millions of dollars into conservation and protected many threatened species. It is the major development in conservation during this century.

“The book traces the 30-year journey of Zealandia and details an incredible story of overcoming the odds to get the support and funding needed to build the fence, eradicate the pests and restore species to the valley,” Jim says.

“It is a story of how innovation can happen and spread its influence widely for national benefit.”