Saving bush for the people, bringing back the birds

Dominion Post | 5 January 2007

David Dickens continues our series on category winners in The Dominion Post's annual Wellingtonian of the Year awards.

Wellys 2006
Sylvia Jenkin

Sylvia Jenkin: A former Presbyterian minister, she coordinates a core of 30 volunteers who have planted more than 14,000 native trees.

A RETIRED Presbyterian minister's drive to save her area's only remaining native bush earned Sylvia Jenkin the Wellingtonian of the Year community service award.

Thanks to her efforts, about 100 hectares of bush and gorse infused with regenerating native seedlings near Cannons Creek has been saved.  Ms Jenkin coordinates a hard core of 30 volunteers who have planted more than 14,000 young, native trees, cut bait lines and encouraged local schools to get involved.

Native birds such tui and morepork are now thriving in the reserve, called Maara Roa.

"The name comes from the Maori for a protected and nurtured area put aside for a return even if it is only for medicine.

"There are some very unusual trees and plants here.  We have a rare white rata, orchids if you look hard, and a very pretty cascading stream."

Ms Jenkin speaks fondly of the volunteers she coordinates.  They are mostly retired and all share her love of the bush.

Ms Jenkin loves being involved with people and says the work is very interesting.

"A love for people is why I became a minister.  People are stimulating and coordinating volunteers is much easier than working with people for the church.  The volunteers do not come unless they are interested in the bush."

Ms Jenkin's efforts to preserve and develop Maara Roa for the region go back to an eight year stint on Cannons Creek in the 1970s.

"I first became involved as a minister at St Martin's Presbyterian Church, doing church work and developing social programmes, promoting community leadership and self reliance.

East Porirua was a bare place when she arrived, largely devoid of social services and facilities such as drop-in centres and parks for the swelling population of Pacific Island immigrants, East Coast Maori looking for work, and a Pakeha sub-culture.

Ms Jenkin's greatest achievement was to persuade the authorities to build a two storey social centre for women and youth at risk complete with pool and table tennis tables, a bowling alley, tuck shop, toilets and a sprinkling of responsible adults willing to talk to the youngsters who popped in.

"Kids, need adults to talk about their challenges and troubles.  Here the kids could meet good role models who were not always present at home, and they could have fun.  A hard core of about 25 had nowhere to live and we gave them a place where they could feel safe.  For another hundred from loving families it was a place with facilities they did not have at home.  For other kids it was a nice place to have a good time, dance and play pool and eat a toasted sandwich for 25 cents, after they had finished their homework."

Now these kids are middle-aged, often with children and grandchildren of their own.  "They come up on the street and say hello.  They loved our place."