Nominees care for the land

Conservation Award finalist Fran O'Connor, of Queenstown, at work on one of her projects, clearing scrub from the historic pioneer era Coopers Tce site, rediscovered near the Arrow River in 2010. Photo by James Beech.
Conservation Award finalist Fran O'Connor, of Queenstown, at work on one of her projects, clearing scrub from the historic pioneer era Coopers Tce site, rediscovered near the Arrow River in 2010. Photo by James Beech.
A dedicated Queenstown environmentalist is one of three finalists in the Department of Conservation (Doc) annual Inland Otago Conservation Awards, to be presented in Cromwell tomorrow night.

Finalist Fran O'Connor is a driver-guide for Nomad Safaris, taking people to Macetown and Skippers. She is also involved in volunteer projects across the Wakatipu.

Ms O'Connor was part of Eco Action for many years and is an active member of the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Group. She joined when it started in 2009 and gave a lot of time as both secretary and in hands-on work.

She is passionate about keeping Queenstown Hill free of wilding pines. Her last trip up there with a volunteer group resulted in more than 3500 wildings being removed.

When not pulling pines, she is nurturing kowhai seedlings to plant out as part of Doc's Project Gold initiative.

Ms O'Connor has turned her talents to Coopers Tce, a gold-miners' settlement near the Arrow River. Much of the work has involved careful scrub clearance to unearth the huts and remains.

She intends to persuade the Historic Places Trust to permit her to unearth the cobblestone floor she hopes is hidden under years of leaves, dirt and rubbish, and to have the site looking beautiful for the Gold 150 celebrations in Arrowtown next month.

Her future plans include a plantation of kowhai and other natives trees at Maori Point on the Skippers Rd, in memory of the late Doc ranger Barry Lawrence and his passion for the environment. She wants to call it "Barry's Bush".

Once that is done, she has plans to go and find the South Island kokako.

In recognition of her work, Ms O'Connor was awarded "the Heart of the District" award by the Queenstown Lakes District Council in April this year.

The other finalists are John Gibson, of Patearoa, for his 18 years of voluntary work on the Otago Central Rail Trail Trust, and the Diamond Lake Predator Control Group, Wanaka.

Doc acting Otago conservator Alan McKenzie said the awards honoured the great work of people who went the extra mile for conservation.

"This is an opportunity to celebrate Otago's 2012 conservation champions who have shown how much they love New Zealand and who work hard to conserve and protect the special things that make our country, and our backyard, unique," Mr McKenzie said.

He said the quality of the award finalists was again outstanding, making it difficult for the Otago Conservation Board to select just three finalists.