Two Far North kiwi conservation leaders were recognised at the 2019 Kiwi Awards, presented at the National Kiwi Hui in Hawke's Bay.

Stella Schmid, from Ōpua-based Bay Bush Action, won the Tohu Mana Tiaki — Iwi Conservationist of the Year Award, while Marj Cox, from the Mahinepua Radar Hill Landcare Group, was named the 2019 Good Egg.

The awards were created by Kiwis for Kiwi, which supports hundreds of volunteers and private land owners all over the country in their work to protect kiwi and their natural habitat.

For Stella Schmid, conservation has literally been a lifelong passion, spending much of her childhood not only playing in Waitangi Forest but caring for it. By the age of four she was regularly accompanying her uncle, who worked for the then Waitangi Forestry Service, spending her days in the forest and developing a love of the natural world.

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From her uncle she learned valuable lessons on the importance of wildlife, especially endemic and native species.

She subsequently joined fellow conservationist Brad Windust as a founding trustees of Bay Bush Action, which aims to reduce pest numbers and reintroduce species that have become extinct in Ōpua Forest. With more than 2000 traps across 500ha she spends most of her days in the forest, co-ordinating the trap lines and managing Bay Bush Action's forest management programme.

Stella's unswerving passion for kiwi and the natural environment was most recently demonstrated by her leading the organisation of a hugely successful Kiwi Conservation Festival in the Bay of Islands in December, which attracted conservationists from throughout the Far North, shining a light on conservation efforts in the region for kiwi and other native fauna and flora.

She was also was instrumental in developing Ngāhere Toa, a group of children who help with trapping and learning about the forest's ecosystem (www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DbCAFGQ-FU).

As well as her role with Bay Bush Action, Stella runs her own tour guiding business, taking visitors from all corners of the world into the forest to learn how Māori traditionally used it and the huge stress the ecosystem has come under with the introduction of foreign species. And she created the education programme Te Waka Kaitiaki Whenua, her goal to visit all schools from the top of the North to as far as she can go, sharing the message about what is happening in native forests and how everyone can work together to fix it them.

"Bay Bush Action Trust is not just part of my life — it is my life," she said.

Crucial roleMarj Cox joined the Mahinepua Radar Hill Landcare Group very soon after it was founded in 2002, as the secretary, a role that is crucial to its success.

"While everyone wants to be in the field, hands-on with kiwi, there is so much paperwork to do, and someone's got to do it," she said.

Her role involves administration, maintaining management agreements, permits, funding applications, health and safety requirements, and more, the citation saying she went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure all documentation was attended to and processes were running smoothly for the eight working members of the group.

The Mahinepua Radar Hill Landcare Group is fortunate to have kiwi in its 'back yard,' but the challenge was to keep them safe and their habitats predator-free. A big part of the group's role was trapping and helping neighbouring land owners set up their own trap lines to create kiwi corridors, enabling the free, safe flow of the birds.

"With kiwi living across the region it's a matter of joining the dots so they can travel beyond our own borders safely. We all need to know how to protect them," Marj said.

But while she had put in a lot of hours over the years, she pointed out that there were other groups in the Far North that had been going longer, saying she believed her Good Egg award should be shared with the rest of the local kiwi conservation community.