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Meet a conservation hero

A conversation with Wendy John from Friends of Oakley Creek

Published: 26 May 2017
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Meet Wendy John, a conservation hero.

OurAuckland has a chat with the latest conservation hero Wendy John, a founding member of the Friends of Oakley Creek community group.

Growing up across the road from a native reserve meant that for Wendy John, conservation work and being active in the face of environmental issues has “always been very much a part of who I am.”

It was while she was involved in a community group seeking to stop a motorway from going through the Oakley Creek catchment that Wendy was first introduced to the area. Running 15km from Mt Roskill to the Waitematā Harbour, Oakley Creek is the longest river in Auckland and features the only natural waterfall in Auckland City.

“There had been intermittent clean ups, but nothing organised,” says Wendy. “The area was desperately needing some TLC and protection; looking after it seemed like the automatic natural next step.”

A group of  Friends of Oakley Creek volunteers are working in the long grass of a river bank pulling out weeds
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Wendy says, “If you’re going to protect something it needs to have meaning and be valuable. The community needs to buy into it; they need to feel like they have a sense of ownership and that they can participate in solving issues.”

So in 2004 Wendy and some like-minded individuals formed Friends of Oakley Creek. This group of like-minded volunteers took on the role of guardians of the catchment, with a focus on the lower 2.5km from New North Road. They faced challenges from the beginning – “weeds, pest plants and animals, water pollution and rubbish in the creek – plus the area didn’t have a profile,” says Wendy.

Wendy shows off a day's hard work- a skip full of rubbish collected by Friends of Oakley Creek volunteers
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Over the last 12 years, the group has organised community-led monthly working bees that have seen the area go from strength to strength. What started as planting and general clean-up now includes monitoring and pest control and the group has had regular contact and support from Auckland Council since 2009. “We’ve planted around 65,000 native species, and now monitor weta, lizards, birds and water quality as well as pest

“We’ve planted about 65,000 native species, and now monitor weta, lizards, birds and water quality as well as pest control,” says Wendy. “Now the kererū are back and we see way less [evidence of] possums and rats."

When asked why Oakley Creek is so special, Wendy says, “We all need some connection with nature, and Oakley Creek is a place in the middle of the city where you can go and do that. You feel miles away from anywhere and it’s so special. It’s a little gem really.”

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Community Environment