Concern as four Guardians call time

The original Guardians of Lake Manapouri, Monowai and Te Anau, appointed by Prime Minister Norman...
The original Guardians of Lake Manapouri, Monowai and Te Anau, appointed by Prime Minister Norman Kirk in 1973, meet again in 1994 (from left) Wilson Campbell, Prof (later Sir) Alan Mark, John Moore, Jim McFarlane and Les Hutchins. PHOTO: ODT FILES
A 50-year-old environmental watchdog has been rocked by resignations amid claims the Department of Conservation (Doc) is not supporting the work the group is mandated to do.

Four of the eight-member Guardians of Lakes Manapouri, Monowai and Te Anau have either resigned or otherwise indicated they will not return after the group’s next meeting in February.

Conservationists are troubled by what is going on with the group, established in 1973 to oversee the environmental, social, economic and cultural effects of Fiordland’s hydro-electric schemes on the Waiau catchment.

After the recent resignation of co-chairwoman Madeleine Peacock, of Te Anau, co-chairman Darryl Sycamore, of Dunedin, said the group’s next meeting would be his last.

David Barnes, of Lower Hutt, is expected to resign at the same meeting.

And one of two Ngāi Tahu representatives, Dr Jane Kitson, of Otatara, ended her term without seeking reappointment.

There is apparently no plan from Ngāi Tahu for her to be replaced.

Mr Sycamore, who has been a member of the Guardians for more than 11 years, including six as a chairman, said his decision to resign had been a difficult one.

It was a decision about which he had mixed feelings, given the issues the group was now working on.

However, he believed he had a responsibility to ensure the Guardians had the resourcing and ability to carry out their basic functions as set out in the Conservation Act.

"We have a number of complex issues to work through such as seeking changes to the gazetted guidelines (which has implications in terms of the duration each lake can stay at a particular level), increasing minimum flows in the Lower Waiau, affected party processes on current and future resource consents or even the erosion on Te Waewae Bay.

"To enable us to carry out our mandated role, we require a level of basic support such as administrative or legal.

"Our budget is modest and over recent years we have been asking for more support from the department required to do our mandated job.

"That support has not been forthcoming."

Conservationist Emeritus Prof Sir Alan Mark, of Dunedin, who was an original member of the group and its chairman for 26 years, said he was concerned.

Sir Alan said news of the resignations prompted him to contact, firstly, Mr Sycamore, and subsequently Doc.

The reply he received from Doc included an admission that the level of service the department provided for the Guardians was "inadequate".

He was also told the situation would improve, he said.

Doc Te Anau operations manager John Lucas confirmed Doc had received the resignations of three members and that Ngāi Tahu had chosen not to put forward another candidate to replace Dr Kitson at this time.

Mr Lucas also confirmed the Guardians had requested additional support from Doc to help them in their advocacy work.

"Doc has been working with the group to find ways to provide targeted support, while still working within the legislative framework both organisations are bound by.

"Recently, the department has appointed an administrative support role, similar to that provided to other statutory and advisory boards, to the Guardians.

"Doc continues to work constructively with the Guardians, and will continue to find ways to support them in their function."

Waiau Rivercare Group co-chairman Paul Marshall, of Motu Bush, said the 425-member group he led held the Guardians in high esteem.

The health of the river was significantly degraded and the spate of resignations was upsetting.

"It’s a matter of great concern to the rivercare group that that level of expertise is lost," he said.