A bellbird calls from a tree and quail strut across the lawn while Jean Stanley talks about the work of the Pukawa Wildlife Management Trust.

Stanley is a recipient of a Queen's Service Medal in this year's New Year's honours for her service to conservation.

In 17 years, the work of the trust and its volunteers has transformed Pukawa at the southern end of Lake Taupō from a silent enclave of 300 mostly holiday homes and a marae to a settlement bursting with birdsong - so much so that some have dubbed it Bird Bay.

Stanley is quick to note the return of birds to Pukawa has been a team effort but she is the only founding member who has been involved throughout. She not only maintains two (until recently three) trap lines in the bush, but she is also the trust's secretary and driving force.

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When Stanley and her late husband Russell moved to Pukawa 40 years ago, the bush was silent.

When locals began lamenting the lack of birdlife and observing rats running up and down trees in broad daylight, Russell built a trap and caught 10 rats in 10 nights.

Four or five residents formed the Pukawa Wildlife Management Group and approached the then Conservation Department, which agreed to assist as long as the group intended to be long term.

Group members set up traplines and began trapping rats, stoats, weasels, ferrets, mice, possums, cats and rabbits. It took only two years for the birds to return in droves.

Stanley can't recall the year the group first formed, but in 2002 she began keeping records. Since then, the group has trapped 11,426 pests, predominantly rats (8186). It traps between 45 and 55 rats per month most months, has 15 traplines and 400 traps.

"I like to think we've got numbers down to a low level. We'll never get rid of them all but if we can keep doing what we're doing it's a hopeful sign."

Queen's Service Medal recipient Jean Stanley is secretary and the longest-serving member of the Pukawa Wildlife Management Trust, which has trapped more than 11,000 pests since 2002.
Queen's Service Medal recipient Jean Stanley is secretary and the longest-serving member of the Pukawa Wildlife Management Trust, which has trapped more than 11,000 pests since 2002.

In 2007 the group became the Pukawa Wildlife Management Trust. Stanley said one of its greatest success stories was the return of the North Island robin. It took about 10 years before one was spotted. Now, robins are regularly seen along with kereru, tui, bellbirds and others.

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Stanley said what she would really like to see is the reintroduction of kiwi to Pukawa. They are heard occasionally at night but are thought to be passing through.

When the letter informing Stanley had been nominated for a Queen's Service Medal arrived, she was "gobsmacked".

"I feel very humbled because I've always thought that there are people throughout New Zealand that are more worthy than me," Stanley said. "I do feel guilty. There's hundreds of people out there that do what I do.

"The only reason I accepted was I feel that Pukawa is a special place, I really do."