Fran O'Connor: Conservation Champion, October 2012

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Celebrating businesses, community groups, iwi and volunteers who are making important contributions to conservation in New Zealand

For Fran O'Connor, being a part of her community means "being out there doing things".

The Queenstown based driver guide for Nomad Safaris won the Inland Otago Conservation Award in September for her work in the Wakatipu district. She also won a 'Heart of the District' award from Queenstown Lakes District Council for her work in the environmental and heritage area.

Fran joined the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Group (WCG) when it was founded in 2009 and she is passionate about keeping Queenstown wilding free. Her last trip up the hill with a volunteer group resulted in over 3500 wildings being removed.

When asked how the WCG benefits conservation, Fran replied, "The wilding pines project is making sure we keep this area the way it was when people first came to look at it. It's not just the fact the pines are taking over the farmland and mountains—if we're not careful they'll chase out our world-unique ecosystem, which is really important."

Fran's latest project is Coopers Terrace on the Arrow River. With the help of a local primary school she uncovered the wall of an old gold miner's hut.

Her next goal is to find the cobblestone floor of the hut which she hopes is hidden below layers of leaves, dirt, and rubbish. Fran admits that it is a delicate project though due to the historic significance of the site. She maintains regular contact with people who can ensure that her work is respectful to the site's history.

"I just love being out there doing things that are going to make a difference. Pulling trees and planting things and uncovering things. It's going to make a difference for the future."

When she's not busy removing wilding or unearthing a gold miner's hut, Fran grows Kowhai seeds for DOC's Project Gold initiative. Planting started about a year ago.

DOC held a joint celebration with Fran to recognise her Inland Otago Conservation Award, which aligned with their 25th anniversary celebration.

Fran and her Wilding volunteers.
Fran and her Wilding volunteers


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For more information contact your local DOC office