Gary and Ann Dennison have hit a major milestone in their mission to establish an eco-sanctuary in Waimate. Rebecca Ryan reports.
The hill block above Waimate’s historic Te Kiteroa Lodge is a step closer to becoming a pest-free wildlife haven, with construction of a predator-proof fence getting under way this week.
Gary and Ann Dennison are converting a 90ha hill block into Point Bush Ecosanctuary, and they are gifting it to Waimate and the wider community.
The Point Bush Ecological Restoration Trust, established by Mr and Mrs Dennison, has secured the $180,000 funding needed to start building the fully-enclosed predator-proof fence that will surround 90ha of native bush.
The trust’s main aim for the fence was to protect native birds and bush for future generations to enjoy, Mrs Dennison said.
The Dennisons bought the bare and erosion-prone hill block in 1986 and, with the help of the community, have planted it with more than 20,000 native plants, bushes and trees.
Over the past 30 years, the area has regenerated with “amazing” native bush and wildlife, such as kereru, piwakawaka, tui and karearea.
But wallabies and other pests, such as possums, rats, stoats and weasels, remained a big problem.
Work on the predator-proof fence has started near the Whitehorse monument and the walking tracks and mountain bike trails will remain open during construction, and afer it is completed.
“We’re very mindful that we’ve got very popular walking and biking tracks – so we’re trying to merge this together so we have the benefits of recreation, walking and biking,” she said.
“We want to make sure everybody gets to benefit from the area.”
They planned to start monitoring native birds, wildlife and water quality so they could measure changes once the fence was completed.
It was a major project, and the timeline would become clearer as it progressed, she said.
The next step would be to get the wallabies out of the enclosed area, and trapping work would continue.
“Then the next stage will be planting, and just in general the bush regeneration.”
The trust had a good number of volunteers interested in the project and amount of native bush in Waimate was growing thanks to their efforts.
“The more encouragement or people and farmers doing riparian planting, people putting in their own pockets of native bush, creates corridors for native birds.
“There’s a lot going on.”
Keeping the community, especially local schools, engaged in the project was “critical”, she said.
“They’re our future eco-warriors.”
It was a very exciting and busy time for the couple.
They have repurposed the former Harvest Bar and Kitchen building into a visitor centre, which is also being used for community events, talks and workshops.
Down the track, they hope to establish a kiwi breeding programme.
Before establishing the Point Bush Ecological Restoration Trust, Mr and Mrs Dennison ran Point Bush Wines for 10 years.
While the couple has closed the cellar door and removed the vineyard, they continue to sell wine online, with the proceeds from sales going to the eco-sanctuary project.