A Southland woman’s desire to protect conservation and preserve native species for future generations

Estelle Leask, from Bluff, will be made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to conservation and Maori.

Robyn Edie / Stuff

Estelle Leask, from Bluff, will be made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to conservation and Maori.

When Estelle Leask started volunteering on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island over 30 years ago, she was shocked to learn that she was one of the few Ngāi Tahu to have stayed there.

She couldn’t believe her people didn’t have access to their own island, so she wondered, “How can we change that?”

Now, thanks in part to her determination, there is active co-management of the island between Iwi and the Crown.

Her love of conservation led her to be made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to conservation and Maori on the Queen’s birthday this year.

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Leask (Ngāi Tahu, Te Whakatāea, Ngāti Ruanui) says working with kākāpō on Whenua Hou is life changing.

Her desire to protect the native parrot and other species is the explanation she wants to give to future generations.

“I don’t want to be responsible for my watch explaining to the next generation ‘sorry we couldn’t do it’. Especially iconic species like kiwi and kākāpo. How can we be Kiwi without kiwi?

Growing up in Bluff with a mother from Rakiura and a father from Whakatāne, Leask learned from an early age what it meant to be a kaitiaki.

“That awareness and sadness of losing native species to pests.”

Leask also dedicates her time to Te Korawai Whakahau, a community facility and native plant nursery that grows trees for the restoration of Bluff Hill.

The Jobs For Nature fund enabled them to employ young people to do the work.

“This was a game changer for us – 30,000 trees have been grown and will help restore Bluff Hill’s mana.”

It was also important to give the birds a safe haven, she said.

Leask has received a lot of support from her husband, who encourages her to volunteer in the community.

When she first found out she was up for the Queen’s birthday honour, she was shocked.

Then came the disbelief.

“I said ‘I don’t want this’. I didn’t feel worthy.

But Leask’s older sister spoke to her and made it clear that it wasn’t about her, but rather a team effort deserving of the award, she said.

“I don’t feel like I’m being singled out, but humbly accepting for everyone who supports this.”

Leask is a member of Te Rūnanga o Awarua in Bluff and Senior Environmental Advisor for Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

His contributions to conservation range from trap checking to strategic program direction.

Since 2008, she has served as President, Volunteer Coordinator and Coordinator of the Te Kowowai Whakahou Native Plant Nursery for the Bluff Hill Motupōhue Environment Trust.

She led an initiative for students of the Environmental Management course at the Southern Institute of Technology to help them with aspects of the Trust’s work.

In 2018 Leask joined the Southland Conservation Board and is now a director on the board of Predator Free 2050 Ltd and Predator Free New Zealand Trust.

She helped the Department of Conservation develop its working relationship with Ngāi Tahu. She led the development of two Ngāi Tahu Aspirations documents for the Maukahuka Project – Pest Free Auckland Islands and Predator Free Rakiura.

Leask is Murihiku Iwi’s liaison to the DOC for Predator Free Rakiura and an administrator of the Whenua Hou Komiti.

She also supports various Southland environmental volunteer programs including the Kākāpō Salvage Program, Top-Down Tours on Whenua Hou, Otatara Community Nursery, Motu Piu/Dog Island Restoration Project, and Native Plant Nursery from Bluff Community School.

Previously, Leask was a representative of Ngāi Tahu in the Takahē Recovery Group. She is currently a trustee of Kea Conservation.


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