Laurence Gordon doesn't quite fit the standard conservationist mould. He sees himself as a maverick, and outsider, lacking a university degree, often critical of DoC's pest control methods, who has learned most of what he knows simply by getting out into the bush and doing it.

Few have given more to the cause of bringing New Zealand's native birds back from the brink of extinction though, and that commitment was recognised with the awarding of a Queen's Birthday royal honour.

Mr Gordon, who nows lives at Houhora, couldn't talk when the Northern Advocate's Peter de Graaf first called him last week to congratulate him on being named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to wildlife conservation — he was heading into the bush behind Russell to count kiwi, and had to be in place before nightfall.

That was typical of man who more than makes up for a lack of formal qualifications with a powerful empathy for New Zealand's natural environment and the disaster that has befallen it since the introduction of pests such as the stoat, the rat and the possum.


He first got into conservation in his 30s, as a volunteer at Mangatutu Ecological Area, in the Pureora Forest, west of Taupō. At that time, 1995, the idea of creating a 'mainland island' to protect wildlife was in its infancy, but his persistence paid off in the form of private funding and approval from the Kōkako Recovery Group to set up a 1000ha pest control area using bait stations instead of traps.

It was wildly successful, with the number of endangered kōkako soaring from seven pairs in 1995 to 185 pairs in 2016.

Pureora Forest is now the main source of kōkako that are relocated to new sites around the North Island, with up to 40 birds transferred every year.

His efforts were also rewarded with increased numbers of kākā, kākāriki, kererū, riflemen, kārearea and toutouwai.

A group of land owners subsequently invited him to Northland, where he established Russell's first major pest control project. Kiwi numbers there have increased from 50-100 pairs in 2001 to more than 500 pairs today.

He was also involved in the re-introduction of the North Island weka, which is 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.

Mr Gordon also worked for some years on the Purerua Peninsula, in the northern Bay of Islands, which has New Zealand's highest mainland concentration of kiwi, but it's Russell that he keeps returning to after more than 20 years, although much of his work now is as a volunteer.

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