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Published: 2007-07-12 00:00:00

Otorohanga residents Arthur and Pat Cowan were among a “distinguished group” of Waikato people recognised for their outstanding contribution to conservation at Environment Waikato’s Policy and Strategy Committee meeting this week.

Council chairman Jenni Vernon presented Mr Cowan with a certificate recognising his “exceptional lifelong contribution to conservation in the Waikato region”. She also acknowledged the huge support role Mrs Cowan had played.

Now in his nineties, Mr Cowan continues to plant about 4000 flaxes and native trees in reserves and covenanted areas on private land every year, assisted by a band of helpers. He is also actively involved in pest control.

He is a long-time member of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand, which recently presented him with a prestigious Old Blue award. An enthusiastic covenanter of land to protect native vegetation, he is also a member of the Advisory Committee for Regional Environment. Mr Cowan was a founding member of the New Zealand Native Forests Restoration Trust and a former director of the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust. He served on the Otorohanga Zoological Committee for 13 years.

In the 1970s, Mr Cowan helped to save kiwi on land being developed in Northland, driving from Otorohanga every Friday night to trap birds and release them in safe areas with a group of others. On one occasion, he mortgaged his own farm to prevent a block of land being sold to a developer, and sold it to the Department of Conservation three years later.

Mr and Mrs Cowan were presented with a framed photograph of “Arthur’s hut” in the Rangitoto Ranges, where Mr Cowan has spent many years restoring native bush.

“We need role models like you,” the chairman said.

Mr Cowan thanked the council and said it was “a tremendous honour” to receive the award.

“It’s been a great privilege in the last 20 or 30 years or so to be involved with forest restoration and the type of work that involves,” he said.

“The work is really a team effort because we’ve worked with so many people over those years that have been helping and working to the same ends.”

He said it had been “a great pleasure” to be involved with Environment Waikato.

“Over that time we’ve been included in the Clean Streams effort and that has been a tremendous movement in the right direction. The changes over the last 20 years are quite incredible, from total development across the country to all of a sudden the conservation side of things.”

Mr Cowan said conservation was about “doing something for those coming down the track who have no say at the present time”.

He wrapped up his speech with a favourite saying: “take care of our world; good planets are hard to find”.

Green Ribbon award winners Andrew and Jenny Hayes and their sons Alistair, Rodney, Derek and Fred, from Horsham Downs, and David and Juliette Wallace, from Karapiro, were also honoured at the ceremony.

The Hayes and Wallaces received Green Ribbon awards from the Ministry for the Environment earlier this year to recognise their outstanding contributions to sustaining, protecting and enhancing New Zealand’s environment.

The Hayes have significantly changed their farming practices and created wetland buffers around Lake Kaituna and Lake Komakorau, which border their property. They have also taken a leadership role in restoring the lakes, helping to form the Lake Kaituna care group, removing rubbish, controlling pests and undertaking habitat restoration work.

The Wallaces initiated and continue to drive the Maungatautari Ecological Island Project, which aims to remove all introduced mammalian predators from Maungatautari and restore habitat for native flora and fauna. About 3400 hectares of indigenous forest is now protected by 47km of pest-proof fencing.

“It’s a huge honour to have such a distinguished group of conservationists here,” the chairman said.

“This region is very lucky to have such dedicated people.”