Bear Grylls backs park conservation project

Launching a major new Mt Aspiring National Park conservation project in Wanaka at the weekend are...
Launching a major new Mt Aspiring National Park conservation project in Wanaka at the weekend are (from left) Mountain Film Unit managing director Julian Grimmond, of Queenstown, Department of Conservation Wanaka area office manager Paul Hellebrekers and the founders of the Matukituki Charitable Trust, Gillian and Derek Crombie, of Christchurch. Photo by Lucy Ibbotson.
British adventurer and television star Bear Grylls has lent his support to a major new conservation project in Mt Aspiring National Park.

The joint project between the Department of Conservation and Matukituki Charitable Trust aims to reduce the predator population in the West Matukituki Valley to benefit threatened native wildlife such as birds, bats, lizards and native plants.

The trust was founded, and kick-started with a $10,000 donation, by Derek and Gillian Crombie, of Christchurch, who have a house at Lake Hawea and a long association with the Matukituki Valley.

''It's been our playground for 30 years, at least,'' Mrs Crombie said.

''It's just been one of those places that we've found a real spiritual release almost. When you go up the valley you can leave the troubles behind,'' Mr Crombie added.

The couple was spurred into action after noticing the decrease in birdlife over the years in the area, particularly the dwindling number of keas at French Ridge Hut.

''[We] are passionate about working with Doc on a long-term plan to restore the natural balance and enhance this special place for the public to visit and enjoy for many generations,'' Mr Crombie said.

NBC television production Get Out Alive With Bear Grylls and Queenstown production company Mountain Film Unit have also endorsed the project, with a further $10,000 donation.

The show, which debuts on NBC this week, was filmed in the Matukituki Valley in March and is the first prime-time network show shot entirely in New Zealand.

''I hope this small contribution helps support that great Kiwi spirit of adventure as well as preserve and protect the amazing wilderness that New Zealand can boast so proudly,'' Grylls said in a media statement.

He expressed his gratitude for the support and encouragement New Zealand communities had given the film production.

''It is why I love New Zealand so much. Pioneers in attitude and openness and an example to the world of how to achieve good things under pressure and always with a smile.''

Mountain Film Unit managing director Julian Grimmond said Get Out Alive could have been filmed anywhere in the world, but Grylls took no convincing Mt Aspiring National Park was the best location, as he was ''such a fan'' of the area.

''From our perspective, we can bring these shows here because of this environment ... [the donation is] basically the environment earning its own keep,'' Mr Grimmond said.

Doc's Wanaka area office manager, Paul Hellebrekers, said the project would benefit species, the valley's ecosystem and the 80,000 recreational users who visited the valley each year.

''As the trust grows, our long-term aim is to expand pest control to the East Matukituki Valley and the lower catchment of the valley, and to include both conservation land and neighbouring private land, with the support of landowners.''

The first steps of the project to establish baseline data, including possum and rat numbers, have been completed, and additional trap lines laid for stoats. Volunteers would be recruited to help with pest-trapping and monitor beech-seed fall and wildlife, Mr Hellebrekers said.


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