Waimarama Brook Sanctuary in Nelson

Its midnight at The Warehouse and Yvonne Jonas  is stocktaking in her pyjamas. What’s more, she’s doing it for three nights for nothing.  No pay for her anyway, Yvonne’s earnings and those of her two companions will go directly to the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary Trust.   There are other people stocktaking that night (wearing pyjamas was optional), also fundraising for their own charity or Not For Profit organisation.  For many this will seem to be going above and beyond but for Yvonne, it’s just another way to help the Sanctuary.   She’s signed up to do it again.

Involved with the Sanctuary since it was created in 2007, Yvonne has become a reliable and enthusiastic volunteer,  working both as a trapper and ‘meet and greeter’ at the visitor centre.   She also finds time to clear trap lines for Forest & Bird (Paramata Flats) and Nelson City Council (Haven Holes Reclamation), plus volunteers at Nelson Tai Chi (merchandising and set leader) and the Whakatu Nursery.  Regretfully, she had to give up her work as a kindergarten ‘story gran’ and Alzheimers volunteer:  “I didn’t have enough time,” she says.  This may be a slight understatement.

So why so much for so many?

“I like to give back to the community.  Plus, I’ve made friends and met a lot of like-minded people and I love being outdoors,” Yvonne says . “I like that it’s voluntary so you’re not obligated to attend if you can’t, and I can stop whenever I want.”

Nelson is fortunate to have a high representation of volunteers per capita but Yvonne’s commitment is admirable.   Perhaps part of her willingness to help is that for several of these volunteer jobs she shares the enjoyment with her fellow volunteer and husband, Arthur Jonas.  Eight years ago when they were enthusiastic trampers (they meet at the Nelson Tramping Club) the couple helped put traps out on one of the first track lines at the Sanctuary. They’ve long since packed away the tramping gear but they took on responsibility for the traps on that first line and have continued to be responsible for checking it ever since, introducing eight of their grandchildren to the wonders of the sanctuary in the process.

 “We just love it.  We enjoy being outdoors and it’s such a fabulous place up at the Brook.  We see it as something worthwhile that will be of real benefit to the wildlife and something for the enjoyment of future generations.  We may not see it come to fruition but we saw it off the ground and we feel pretty good about that,” Arthur says.

In the meantime, 78 year old Arthur will continue to check and lay traps with the trapping team, including once a month walking five or six hours up to one of the ridges to clear traps. A job he plans to continue until his knees tell him not to.

Construction of predator-proof fencing is currently underway and on target for completion next year.  The fence will stretch for 14 kilometres and enclose 715 hectares of native forest.  Once predator free, many native species including the kiwi, tuatara and kakapo will be reintroduced into the area.  The cost of fence construction has been met through a successful combination of grants, council funding, fund raising activities and public donations. 

Another long-time volunteer, Claire Williams took her Tai Chi class up to the Brook Sanctuary.  Being outdoors was a welcome change for the group and added another level of peacefulness to an already meditative experience.

“We had a lot of fun going up and showing them around and doing our set to the sound of the bellbirds. It inspired the group to want to do their bit to help protect the Sanctuary, so the Tai Chi branch members combined donations to buy several pest-free fence posts,” says Claire.

It’s Sanctuary visits like this that have made a big difference.  Corporates, school groups, sports teams and families, spending time in the Sanctuary before the allure of the native bush takes hold, creating a sense of ownership and in turn, a desire to help.

Claire and her husband Peter, have also been active volunteers for the Trust since they put their names forward fifteen years ago.  Claire currently organises one of the volunteer rosters but has been involved in several of the other teams over the years.  Peter is a weed expert.

“I was a recently retired plant ecologist specialising in weeds and first became involved at the Sanctuary as a consultant,”Peter says. “I guess you could say I did it because I wanted to put my energy into the public estate.” 

Needless to say, weeding is not a glamorous line of work but Claire reflects on it with a great sense of satisfaction.

 “Each Saturday morning for several years, we’d crawl up through the scrub, with loppers and paste, primarily seeking out Old Man’s Beard.  It was worth the effort as there’s less invasive weeds to be seen there now,”she says. “I also think it’s a great project  for families to get into.  Children learn so much.  We take our grandchildren there for walks and their ability to spot tiny Old Man’s Beard seedlings is amazing.  It adds a bit of fun and gives them a purpose to the walk.”

For these couples, many of the staff and the approximately  450 active volunteers, the predator-proof fencing has been a long time in the planning and now that it is underway, their enthusiasm is palpable.

 “It’s fantastic to see it appearing before your eyes.  We were lucky to be taken around by four wheel drive recently and it was a real buzz.  And it’s exciting to think that some of the endangered wildlife in New Zealand will have a chance to come back in this area,” says Claire.

“It’s like pinch me, it’s happening”, says Yvonne.  “Back in 2009 there was much discussion about the possibility of a fence and here we are six years on and it’s becoming a reality.  We can’t wait.”

The native wildlife would probably agree.

Interested in volunteering?

The Brook Sanctuary is always looking for volunteers to help in a variety of ways.  From track cutting to administrative tasks, monitoring pests and birdlife, visitor centre meet & greet, controlling pests and invasive plants, or assistance with public events. For more volunteer information, go to: www.brooksanctuary.org phone (03) 546 2422 or email info@brooksanctuary.org

by Britt Coker