A Napier conservationist received a prestigious environmental award at a ceremony in Wellington on Saturday.

Neil Eagles, of Taradale, was presented Forest & Bird's Old Blue award after nearly four decades' service to the Napier branch.

Eagles joined Forest & Bird in Gisborne in 1977 and moved to the Napier branch in 1981.

He served as branch secretary for several years from 2001 and as chairman between 2008 and 2016.


Napier branch Chairman David Belcher said Eagles' leadership ensured Napier was a highly respected Forest & Bird branch.

Eagles said he felt the award reflected not only his own efforts but those of others in the Napier branch as well.

"I'm honoured to receive the Old Blue but the achievements were only possible through having a good committee and through the work of a lot of good people.

"I've always tried to do the best I can and I've been retired for about 12 years now, so I've been able to put more time into the work."

His interest in conservation started when he was a child living near Otari-Wilton's Bush (the only public botanic garden in New Zealand dedicated solely to native plants) in Wellington and has continued throughout his time in Hawke's Bay.

"There are a lot of things going on around Hawke's Bay and there are a lot of people trying to do something to make our environment better."

One of Eagles' major commitments has been to the Little Bush Reserve at Puketitiri, northwest of Napier, where he was involved in a pest control programme.

He spent many hours there undertaking weed control, track maintenance and other work.

The reserve contains a variety of native species including kahikatea, matai, rimu and hinau.

Some of the trees are more than 500 years old.

He has also organised the branch's annual tree planting day, started a monthly newsletter to members and spent time maintaining the branch's Hartree Lodge at the William Hartree Memorial Scenic Reserve.

For the last 10 years he has been on the Tutira-Maungaharuru Forum, which aims to improve the environment around Lake Tutira, where Forest & Bird has planted trees since 1985.

He has also represented the branch for more than four years on the TANK (Tutaekuri, Ahuriri, Ngaruroro and Karamu) project, which advises Hawke's Bay Regional Council on managing important waterways in the region.

Eagles was presented with his Old Blue at Forest & Bird's annual conference on Saturday.

The accolade is awarded annually to people who have made a significant contribution to Forest & Bird or to the organisation's conservation goals.

The award commemorates the last breeding female black robin which, thanks to work led by pioneering conservationist Don Merton, saved the species from extinction in the 1980s.