Two decades of work to restore Rākaumangamanga (Cape Brett) has been recognised with the two hapū involved named the supreme winners at this year's Northland Regional Council Environmental Awards.

Patukeha and Ngāti Kuta's work in the eastern Bay of Islands netted both Te Tohu Matua-Supreme Award and the Kaitiakitanga Award at the second annual Environmental Awards, livestreamed on Facebook on Thursday evening.

The judges noted that as kaitiaki, the two hapū had endured many changes and challenges during their quest to reduce pests and restore bush and birdlife at Rākaumangamanga.

Forest and Bird video showing possum damage to pōhutukawa on Cape Brett:


Pest control contractor Richard Witehira (Patukeha, Ngāti Kuta) said the award was recognition of many years of hard work and the challenges the hapū had overcome, particularly around a 1080 drop in 2018 in response to a ''massive problem'' with introduced pests.

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Witehira said the greatest challenges had come from his own people and the anger generated on social media by outside groups using tangata whenua to further their own agendas.

As a result he had had a knife pulled on him and been spat on in the street.

He was grateful to trustees of the 3B2 Ahu Whenua Trust who stood their ground, and the kuia and kaumatua who supported them ''to do something about the destruction of the ngahere (forest) out there''.

Witehira said he was also indebted to the kaimahi (workers) who had put in the hard yards and Massey University ecologist Isabel Castro who had provided training in wildlife monitoring.

''I was talked into entering these awards ... I didn't think we'd win in my wildest dreams.''

Rākaumangamanga/Cape Brett was devastated by pests, particularly the arrival of possums in the 1980s, but is coming back to life thanks to two Bay of Islands hapū. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Rākaumangamanga/Cape Brett was devastated by pests, particularly the arrival of possums in the 1980s, but is coming back to life thanks to two Bay of Islands hapū. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Robert Willoughby (Ngāti Kuta) said the award also recognised collaboration with groups such as the 3B2 Ahu Whenua Trust, the Department of Conservation, Guardians of the Bay and Project Island Song.

Not all hapū initiatives had been successful and some had been controversial, but recent bird surveys showed wildlife was returning.

Willoughby said work by the hapū was a reflection of traditional Māori values such as those of his grandparents who depended on, and looked after, their environment.

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''It's about holding fast to those old conservation values we all hold dear.''

People tended to focus on economic factors but it was vital to get the environment right first, he said.

Regional council chairwoman Penny Smart said 28 entries were received for this year's awards.

Entries were open to individuals, community groups, schools, tangata whenua and businesses. Their work had to be located in Northland and bring significant benefit to the region's environment.

This year's awards recognised environmental action in kaitiakitanga, the community, pest management, education, water quality improvement, industry and leadership. Category winners will receive a trophy and $1000.

The 2020 winners are:

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■ Environmental action in the community: Friends of Rangikapiti
Project bringing communities and cultures together to restore maunga and bush reserve at Rangikapiti (a former pā site between Mangonui and Coopers Beach) to its original state.

■ Environmental action in pest management: Bream Head Conservation Trust
Community effort to restore the biodiversity values of a headland at Whangārei Heads through sustained and intensive pest control.

Aerial view of Bream Head, Whangārei. Photo / John Stone
Aerial view of Bream Head, Whangārei. Photo / John Stone

■ Environmental action in industry: United Civil Construction
For delivering a major civil works project (the $182m Ngāwhā geothermal plant) in an ecologically sensitive environment without adverse environmental effects.

■ Environmental action in education: Portland School-Te Kura o Tikorangi
For environmental mahi embracing tree planting, water quality testing and pest control, showing what can be achieved when a community comes together with a common and lasting goal.

■ Environmental action in water quality improvement: Dragonfly Springs Wetland Sanctuary
Jeremy Busck has worked since the 1990s to transform 6ha of junk-filled swamp at Onerahi into a wetland and educational asset.

Jeremy Busck and Pamela Winter at Dragonfly Springs Wetland Sanctuary. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Jeremy Busck and Pamela Winter at Dragonfly Springs Wetland Sanctuary. Photo / Michael Cunningham

■ Environmental leadership: Ian Wilson and John Dawn
Ian Wilson and John Dawn, together with the Puketi Trust, local iwi and neighbouring landowners, oversee trapping in more than 5000ha of Puketi Forest, west of Kerikeri.

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■ Kaitiakitanga and Te Tohu Matua Supreme Award: Patukeha and Ngāti Kuta hapū
A labour of love over two decades to reduce pests and restore bush and birdlife at Cape Brett.

■ Go to www.nrc.govt.nz/environmentalawards for more details about the awards and the highly commended entrants.