Wendy Sporle has always had an affinity with animals and the natural world.

As a teenager, growing up in the Waikato, she and her horse would disappear into the bush at Raglan for six weeks over summer, but it's her championing of kiwi that has earned her a Royal honour.

Sporle, who lives with husband Richard Renwick at Diggers' Valley, south of Kaitaia, has been named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for services to kiwi conservation.

She began her working life as a mental health nurse, gaining skills that she believes have helped her greatly in gently persuading others, throughout the country, to contribute to saving the kiwi from once-threatened extinction.


She had been doing the "kiwi stuff" for almost 30 years, she said last week, and had seen great changes in attitude, within the Department of Conservation, the science community and the general public in that time. Her honour recognises the fact she has led a good deal of that change.

"It was never a professional thing. It's a heart thing," she said, and while taking others with her had been a long and at times slow process, it had been an exciting journey.

She had become part of Kiwis for Kiwi in 1991, and was now the organisation's national mentor for advocacy. And while she was no longer travelling as much as she once did, she continued to work with schools, marae and others, locally and further afield, to help people understand the vulnerability of natural eco-systems.

In the early days she had literally gone door to door from one end of Diggers' Valley to the other, "and everyone had a story about a dog "getting a kiwi".

In those days DoC did not recognise dogs killing kiwi as an issue, but that changed as more and more people became motivated to make a difference.

She was now "clustering" land owners to expand viable kiwi habitat, and persuading them that production and protection could co-exist.

Sporle and her husband practise what they preach; their property produces timber and beef, alongside a covenanted area of bush where the ageing kiwi population is growing, albeit very slowly. Kukupa are doing very well there, though.

"I believe in local solutions for local problems," she added.

"It's not about me telling people what they must do. It's about assuring them that they can make a difference. There are now more than 150 community groups around the country that are doing incredible things for kiwi."

There were still some major issues to confront, and a "hell of a lot more work to be done," but she had seen real changes over the past three decades.

Her contribution included nursing injured birds, generally victims of dog attacks, to the point where they could be released. Some could not be saved, and it still hurt when a bird in her care died. Her greatest reward was seeing healthy birds returned to the wild, and the "kiwi smile" that invariably lit people's faces when they handled a bird.

"It's more than that for me, though. When I hold a kiwi I almost feel my heart smiling," she said.