Simon Hall (Ngāti Kahungunu) has spent two decades channelling the success of family business Tasti Foods into conservation.
Hall has put nearly $12 million of profits into what has become New Zealand’s largest private conservation project.
The Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust is re-establishing native New Zealand plants and animals at risk of extinction.
Hall has purchased five significant wilderness blocks totalling 24,000ha. He carries out a range of projects, including setting a record last season for releasing 94 kiwi chicks into the wild.
He was a finalist in the 2023 New Zealand Environmental Hero of the Year Award, as part of this year’s New Zealander of the Year accolades.
It all began back in 2006 at Maungataniwha Forest in northern Hawke’s Bay, Hall told RNZ’s Kim Hill.
“We were walking along one day and we noticed Kiwi poo and that led us to think there was possibly a remnant population there where you would not expect them to be. "
In most of New Zealand’s forests, Kiwi are long gone, he says.
They partnered with Cape Kidnappers Sanctuary in Hawke’s Bay that was looking to establish a new population of kiwi in the region.
“Effectively, you remove the kiwi from the bush when they’re at their most vulnerable stage, and then you release them back into the forest once they weigh a kilo when they can they can normally fight off a stoat.”
He estimates the populations of brown kiwi at Maungataniwha Forest are now in the hundreds.
“The kiwi they’re flourishing. I mean, you’re always going to lose a few with drought and predators but they’ve done really well overall.”
Broad-scale predator control has allowed the kiwi to get established. He says every five years they drop 1080 and support that through extensive trapping.
There is also an extensive programme to eradicate wilding pines, he says, and allow the native forest to regenerate.
“We bought the forest and the previous owner harvested all the pine trees and we thought the right thing to do would be to return that to native forest because it was native forest before it was logged and burned and planted in pines.
“So the native seed source was still in the ground and there were native trees in the gullies, so it was all going to happen naturally.
“The only problem is the wilding pines come up soon after harvest, so we’ve had to pioneer ways of doing broad-scale poisoning to kill those pines but to protect the young native species that are coming up at the same time.”