It has taken nearly 20 years, but the wetlands of the Riverbridge Conservation Park are doing just what conservationist Russell Langdon hoped - offering a habitat environment for nature to thrive.

The park, nestled about 500m from the Ashburton River at Westerfield, south of Ashburton, has been a labour of love for the Mid Cantabrian.

Thousands of back-breaking man-hours have gone into its development, taking the park from the bare farmland paddock it once was to a fully formed wetland with multiple ponds and native forest grounds, all mostly unplanned and planted to encourage wildlife to thrive.

And it is still not finished.

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Mr Langdon said it was a millennium project but ''it's unlikely to be finished in my lifetime''.

''Habitat was a word you never heard when I was at school,'' he said.

And that's just what it is, a habitat that houses some of New Zealand's little wonders.

Most mornings, Russell and younger brother John are on site planting about 30 or so tree seedlings.

They have already planted more than 5000 native tree seedlings and are wanting larger trees for quicker results.

Among trees planted are matai trees, beginning their 600-year journey to maturity, kahikatea, totara, cabbage trees, olearia, coprosmas, flax, kowhai and cottonwood, to name but a few.

The site has no plan and Mr Langdon describes it affectionately as ''a bit of a dog's breakfast'' but the environment is working.

In the 8ha park, nocturnal brown teal and mudfish live with birds such as weka, stilts, and white swans, all cohabitating around one of the ponds on the park, and lizards scurry through the grass.

The park is home to breeding kakariki, whose numbers on both the South and North Islands have been at risk from rats, stoats and cats.

There is also a blossoming kakabeak plant, some petrified wood and scallop fossils set in limestone boulders placed on the site.

Even pukeko and peacocks live harmoniously alongside 600 oak trees, planted by Mr Langdon, which provide acorns to eat each year.

The former Westerfield schoolmaster's house, built in 1888, for which Mr Langdon tendered 50 to secure from the Government in 1964, was relocated there and now hosts school groups and international tourists.

The historic four-bedroom kauri property sits near the entrance to the park and is a starting point in any educational visit of the wetland and its parkland surrounds.

The walls are lined with information about wetlands, posters on endangered species and newspaper clippings on the park and its endeavours.

The park has permanent protection from a QEII convenant. The protection cannot be changed by the current owner or any subsequent owners.

It receives funding through grants applied for through the Riverbridge Native Species Trust.

Central Rural Life