Northlander Laurence Gordon, from Houhora, north of Kaitaia, has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in this year's Queen's Birthday Honours for services to wildlife conservation.

Gordon couldn't talk when the Advocate first called to congratulate him on his honour — he was heading into the bush behind Russell to count kiwi and had to be in place before nightfall.

That's typical for a man who has dedicated much of his life to bringing New Zealand's native birds back from the brink of extinction.

Gordon calls himself a maverick and an outsider.


He doesn't have a university degree, is often critical of DoC's pest control methods, and has learnt most of what he knows simply by doing it.

Instead of qualifications, he says his background is a powerful empathy for New Zealand's natural environment and the disaster that has befallen it since the introduction of pests such as stoats, rats and possums.

Gordon first got into conservation in his 30s as a volunteer at Mangatutu Ecological Area, in Pureora Forest west of Taupō.

At that time, in 1995, the idea of creating a ''mainland island'' to protect wildlife was in its infancy, but his persistence meant he was able to secure private funding and get approval from the Kōkako Recovery Group to set up a 1000ha pest control area using bait stations instead of traps.

It was wildly successful. The number of kōkako, an endangered songbird, soared from seven pairs in 1995 to 185 pairs in 2016. Pureora Forest is now the main source of kōkako relocated to new sites around the North Island.

Gordon's efforts also boosted the numbers of kākā, kākāriki, kererū, rifleman, kārearea and toutouwai.

Laurence Gordon, MNZM, at a kiwi listening post near Russell. Photo / Amos Chapple
Laurence Gordon, MNZM, at a kiwi listening post near Russell. Photo / Amos Chapple

Later, a group of land owners invited him to Northland where he started Russell's first major pest control project.

There, kiwi numbers have increased from 50 to 100 pairs in 2001 to more than 500 pairs today.


He was also involved in the re-introduction of the North Island weka, a bird more endangered than the kiwi. Similar attempts had failed many times before but Russell now has a thriving population of about 2000 of the sometimes controversial birds.

Gordon also worked for a few years on Purerua Peninsula, in the northern Bay of Islands, which has New Zealand's highest mainland concentration of kiwi.

However, the place he keeps coming back to after more than 20 years is Russell, though much of his work now is as a volunteer.

''The people there have really embraced conservation. They're onto it, they're smart, 99 per cent have been good with their dogs. A few weeks ago a kiwi was filmed walking down the main street of Russell — that tells you what a success it has been.''