News | 15 September 2021
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20 Twenty One: Anita Benbrook

When asked how Wellington has changed over the years, Anita Benbrook doesn’t hesitate. “It’s a lot greener than it used to be.”

A smiling woman with short brown hair who looks to be wet, standing outside in amongst green bush wearing a bright orange high-vis waterproof jacket, framed in a polaroid with the words 20 Twenty One celebrating our people written on it.

This fact delights Anita – an absolute plant lover – and she can take a fair bit of the credit.

Anita is Wellington City Council’s Biodiversity Specialist in Plants. In the Urban Ecology team, her key role is advising on what to plant, and where, and after 34 years with the organisation, she’s pretty darn good at it.

“Day to day the bulk of the work I do is restoration planting. It’s looking  across our reserve network and connecting them up, like the outer green  belt. We look out about 10 years ahead of time, trying to piece these green areas together.”

A view of a large hillside speckled in small shrubs and people planting in the background, and a flax and two people in orange vests planting in the foreground.

She has a strong focus on identifying threatened species in the Pōneke region and working to recover them, as well as restoring our coastal dunes, helping to make them more resilient in storms.

The mother of two teens began her stint with Wellington City Council in 1987, spending her first 14 years working at Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush.

“Within a week of being there the person above me left, so I started out in charge of the crew straight away.”

Back then, Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush didn’t have its own dedicated crew and the reserve was “pretty understaffed and under-resourced”.

She says eventually full-time permanent staff were assigned to Ōtari and the unique native reserve got the attention it deserved.

Anita grew up in Miramar and attended Worser Bay School, Evans Bay Intermediate School, and Wellington East Girls College.

She then studied at Massey University and completed correspondence courses.

Her passion for plants and all things outdoorsy – she loves tramping and hunting – began young.

“Mum was a super-keen vege gardener. I used to always help her out and was super keen on her flower garden too. Both my mum and her mum were the ones who really inspired me into gardening.”

Anita says the increase in native wildlife that has gone hand in hand with the move to becoming a greener city has been remarkable.

About eight people wearing casual gear and some in high-vis orange vests, spread out along a hillside that is shaded by a few large trees, planting small plants on a sunny day.

“We were losing a lot of biodiversity at one stage. A big change happened when animal pest control began at Ōtari in 1995.

Prior to that there were no more than oneto-two kererū around and not many tūī.”

Over an initial three nights trapping, 800 possums were caught.

“In a really short time, the kereru population just started to boom. Nowadays you can see tūī all around the city – it’s just amazing. That’s one of the best things that’s happened to Wellington.”

Anita says none of this would have been possible without Pōneke’s 120 volunteer planting groups that contribute to creating a greener city for future generations.

A young boy, and a woman with short brown hair, both wearing high-vis orange vests while crouching on a hillside planting a small tree amongst shrubs and blue sky beyond.

A recent highlight for Anita was planting the city’s two millionth plant following a 20-year programme.

Another has been creating two informative Wellington-focused planting booklets, which can be found at

Other satisfying projects in the past were working on the Ōtari redevelopment project which included building the bridge that links the two garden areas, many seed collecting trips around New Zealand adding species to the Ōtari gardens, working with the many community planting groups, and recently a planting day with Taranaki Whānui to beautify their urupā.

Anita is a keen cyclist, having recently cycled the length of Aotearoa, and has in the past represented New Zealand in target shooting.

When it comes to all things green, Anita doesn’t discriminate, saying “it doesn’t matter if it’s native or exotic, I just love plants full stop”.

It’s 2021, so we’re sharing stories about 21 of our people who have worked at Council for 20 years or more. Find out more about the series in this story.