Our Supporters

A hardy group of people, affectionately called the ‘spade brigade’, first started the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi. They planted over 280,00 trees and mapped out an action plan to create a world-class wildlife sanctuary to inspire new generations of conservationists.

The re-planting and introduction of wildlife onto the island was first conceived in 1974 by two scientists working at Auckland University – John Craig (zoologist) and Neil Mitchell (botanist), who received funding from WWF to set up the nursery. Their vision was one of an ‘open sanctuary’ that placed people at the heart of the project, by allowing the public to be involved in the creation and evolution of this sanctuary. Their conservation goals were tangible and achievable, though the outcome of this social experiment was uncertain, would the people of Tāmaki Makaurau champion this vision? People answered in the boatloads. 

The boat passage to the island was sometimes rough, and winter planting parties were often lashed by rain and wind, but the spade brigade was hardy. Forest and Bird groups, tramping clubs, church and family groups all worked to dig holes and plant the seedlings. Tiritiri’s last lighthouse keeper, Ray Walter, was appointed as the first island ranger in 1984. Walter managed the ‘spade brigade’ with his wife, Barbara, under the guidance of landscape architect Mike Cole who planned the planting programme. Native plant seeds were sourced from the island itself if possible, as well as nearby headlands and islands (such as Whangaparoa, Hauturu and Cuvier), and were grown in the plant nursery that Walter built. 

On any planting duty, the volunteers were free to explore and listen to the birdsong that increased year on year. It was conservation in action, and the project generated a huge loyalty. Soon there was a waiting list, and a limit on the number of trees each group could plant.

In the mid 1980s the Wildlife Service, which had managed Tiritiri Matangi, was merged into a new government department called the Department of Conservation (DOC). Shortly after, as funding looked likely to be cut, Jim and Barbara Battersby formed the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi Inc (SoTM) in 1988 to raise funds for the island. 

The society funded new vehicles and equipment to support planting, then raised money for more expensive buildings like the Visitor Centre, workshop complex and wharf shelter. Tiritiri Matangi is still a responsibility of DOC, but is co-managed with the Supporters. Our work includes guiding, track maintenance, research, fundraising, and managing the Visitor Centre and shop.

As planting ended and the island’s fame spread, school visits and visitor numbers increased. Guiding started in the 1990s, and there are now some 200 volunteer guides. The fees for guiding, and income from the shop, contribute significantly to the island’s funding.

SoTM is now one of the largest conservation groups in New Zealand, with over 1500 memberships. Supporters enjoy a range of activities throughout the year, and new members are always welcome. In recognition of its work, the organisation was awarded the Loder Cup in 1998, a prestigious conservation award, and in 2000 Tiritiri Matangi received the inaugural Auckland Regional Council Environmental Award. 

SoTM’s mission is to develop Tiritiri Matangi, in conjunction with DOC, iwi and other stakeholders, as a model of sustainability and management through five main areas of activity:

Nature conservation – protecting and conserving New Zealand’s wildlife 

Cultural conservation – protecting and conserving New Zealand’s cultural and historical heritage 

Insight – supporting research appropriate to the Island

Inspiration – educating and inspiring visitors and other interested parties 

Participation – providing opportunities for people to be involved

Island life raft: 1990s onwards

As the planting programme neared completion, the emphasis shifted from habitat restoration to re-populating the island with some of the species that would have been present in pre-farming times, and some that would not, but which needed a safe haven. In fact several translocations of birds took place while planting was still going on. The plans for enhancing and managing the island’s fauna, as well as protecting the regenerating forest, were brought together in the second major plan for the island: the Tiritiri Matangi Working Plan, issued in 1997 by the Department of Conservation. 

In Tiritiri Matangi’s small world, endangered species are again beginning to prosper. Most of the translocated species – kiwi pukupuku ( little spotted)  kiwi, takahē, kokako, hihi, brown teal, tieke (saddleback), kākāriki, toutouwai (North Island robin), mātātā (fernbird), pōpokotea (whitehead), Duvaucel’s gecko, tuatara and wetapunga are doing well on the island. There are signs that rifleman are also increasing, and shore skinks are at least holding their own. Key species are monitored regularly and some are managed in accordance with DOC national recovery plans.  

For example, the Takahe Recovery Team moves individual birds around to enhance breeding success. In the past, some of the island’s takahe were the offspring of one breeding pair, who then mated with closely related birds. Many of the takahe that hatched on Tiritiri Matangi have therefore been sent elsewhere – some to the wild Fiordland population, some to the breeding facility at Burwood and, most recently, some to the newly established population on Motutapu Island. Meanwhile, new birds are brought to Tiritiri from time to time to increase genetic diversity.

The island’s key guardians, Ray and Barbara Walter, who brought love, care and vision to a startlingly original enterprise, retired in 2006

The Future

As the forest grows and the numbers of birds, reptiles, and invertebrates increase, Tiritiri Matangi is becoming richly diverse in creatures that are rarely seen on the mainland. In fact it has such an abundance of rare birds that it is now an ‘export’ business helping to repopulate sanctuaries (link) across New Zealand. 

The Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi launched a new Biodiversity Plan for the Island in September 2013. This will help to shape the management and conservation of the island’s fauna and flora for the foreseeable future. More translocations are planned, including reptile species, seabirds, invertebrates and possibly bats and the Supporters’ have spearheaded a project to re-create one of the most complete Lighthouse stations in New Zealand (link). Currently a handful of capital projects are in the pipeline including a field centre, a signal mast and a lighthouse museum 

Tiritiri allows visitors a unique opportunity to wormhole back to a time when birdsong filled the air. This experience draws thousands of tourists and school children to Tiritiri Matangi each year and it is expected visitation will only increase. The future challenge for the island’s guardians will be managing visitor numbers and safeguarding the magic of wandering amidst birdsong on quiet forest paths.