Final festival for stalwart organisers

Wild Dunedin Festival co-ordinator Suzanne Middleton (left) and director Jeannie Hayden are...
Wild Dunedin Festival co-ordinator Suzanne Middleton (left) and director Jeannie Hayden are excited that the festival starts tomorrow. They plan to step down from their roles after its conclusion. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD
Inspiring people to love and care for wildlife and wild spaces, and to learn about the impact of weather and climate, is at the heart of the ninth Wild Dunedin Ōtepoti Mohoao — NZ Festival of Nature, which starts this Friday.

It is a bitter-sweet time for long-standing festival director Jeannie Hayden and co-ordinator Suzanne Middleton, who have been at the heart of the event for eight and six years respectively, as this will be their last year in their roles.

The stalwart pair have made the decision to step down from their part-time paid roles and step off the committee at the conclusion of the 10-day festival, to spend more time with their families, enjoy the garden, be more politically active and generally slow down a little.

Ms Middleton said she was very happy with the work she had done over the years, since she joined the Wild Dunedin Ōtepoti Mohoao — NZ Festival of Nature team as a volunteer in 2018.

"I’ve learned a huge amount and met some wonderful people.

"We’re leaving the festival on a high — 2024 is the biggest and best yet," she said.

Ms Hayden was one of the festival founders in 2016, alongside a broad range of local wildlife operators and organisations, including Tūhura Otago Museum, Ōtākou Runanga, Orokonui Ecosanctuary, Larnach Castle, The Monarch, and Penguin Place (now The Opera — Otago Peninsula Eco Restoration Alliance).

It was wonderful to be part of the festival as it grew from its initial programme of 35 events over three days, to last year’s 120 events, which had attracted 24,000 people, she said.

This year’s festival will include 140 events over 10 days, from April 19-28, and will involve presentations from leading scientists, a wide range of local wildlife and tourism attractions and many community events.

"The festival has grown quite slowly, with a few new events and groups coming in each year, which has enabled us to give them a lot of support until they find their feet — it has worked very well," she said.

Along with being festival director, Ms Hayden has taken on another busy role, joining with fellow gardening enthusiasts on Otago Peninsula to present the "Peninsula People, Plants & Pets" event on April 26.

"We are showcasing four different properties, from a small garden where every inch is used to grow food, to my 50-acre garden that has an orchard and a forest of trees — it will be a lot of fun," she said.

Among a festival programme crowded with weather and climate-themed events, there were many highlights, but there had been an exciting new addition was the inclusion of New Zealander of the Year, distinguished climate scientist Dr Jim Salinger.

Dr Salinger will give a talk entitled "Southern New Zealand: Climate trends and implications of shifts in the Southern Alps glaciers" from 4pm at Tūhura Otago Museum. His talk will follow on from the 3pm presentation by Antarctic Research Centre scientist Dr Timothy Naish on the response of Antarctic ice sheets to climate change.

As well as working closely together over the years, Ms Middleton and Ms Hayden have been supported by a 16-strong festival committee, who were all dedicated to its success.

They are thrilled that The Opera have come on board as the festival’s premiere sponsor, and grateful to Tūhura Otago Museum for its stalwart support.

Although leaving the Wild Dunedin Ōtepoti Mohoao — NZ Festival of Nature is a wrench, the two women have no regrets.

Ms Hayden said time became "very precious as you get older — I want to spend time with my grandchildren and get into the garden".

Ms Middleton wanted to do similar things and also to be more politically active.

"Currently nature in Aotearoa is facing the biggest threat from those in power that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime," she said.

"We have to protect nature — through writing submissions, protest, and making compost at home."