Awards honour region’s environmental heroes

Groups and individuals who have gone above and beyond in their mahi to protect and care for the region have been honoured at this year’s Taranaki Regional Council Environmental Awards.

In an awards ceremony held in New Plymouth on Wednesday night, the eight winners and 13 recipients of ‘highly commended’ awards were congratulated for their outstanding efforts to protect and restore Taranaki’s precious taiao (natural environment).

The winners include a project to protect 70km of coastline, an innovative solar power farm, farmers and a Taranaki group who have worked to safeguard freshwater, exemplary environmental work by students and a kindy and work to improve biodiversity in the eastern hill country.

Council chair Charlotte Littlewood praised the work by the winners and highly commended recipients who were leading by example in improving freshwater and native biodiversity, cutting carbon emissions, reducing waste and protecting wetlands

“I was blown away by the quality of this year’s environmental award winners. From protecting our coastline and native biodiversity to helping to decarbonise our economy and safeguard our precious freshwater, their work is vital and deserves our recognition and thanks.

“The judging was particularly hard this year as the quality of the entrants was extremely high. The winners and highly commended all demonstrated an amazing commitment to caring for Taranaki and it was a privilege to listen to their stories.

“We hope those stories will inspire others too. It’s through the dedication and commitment of our environmental heroes and those countless others who strive to enhance the environment that we can all work together to care for our amazing region.”

This year’s revamped awards featured the addition of new categories such as Youth Environmental Leader, Environmental Action in Water Quality Improvement and Environmental Action in Biodiversity, as well as the realignment of others such as Environmental Leadership in Farming.

The winners in the seven categories are below and more details about the winners and highly commended awardees, including video profiles, can be found at

Environmental Action in the Community:

Rāhui Tīma - For working collaboratively to take action to protect or enhance the environment, or increasing understanding of environmental issues.

This project is protecting shellfish along 70km of the Taranaki coastline, from the Herekawe Stream in New Plymouth to the Taungātara Stream just south of Ōpunake. The rāhui (protection) on the marine environment is the largest in the country and is protecting key ecosystems and mātaitai (shellfish or seafood) reefs.

Mahara Okeroa, Rāhui Tīma co-ordinator and Parihaka kaumātua, says: “I just want to acknowledge all the support that we’ve been given. I want to acknowledge that the best possible way of going forward is community based and that we can coalesce and work together as people.”

Environmental Action in Education:

Ōpunake Community Kindergarten - For empowering tamariki to take action to protect and restore the environment.

The kindergarten is the only early childhood centre in the region to achieve Green-Gold Enviroschool status. Tamariki have helped built a food forest, they grow their own food, help reduce waste and clean-up the Ōpunake beach.

Centre manager Danni Newsome says: “Focusing on the environment is really important for us at kindy. A big part of our vision is empathy and aroha for Papatūānuku (Earth mother), just fostering that with our tamariki. They come to kindy with the seeds of that knowledge and then we just go from there and build on it.”

Youth Environmental Leader (two joint winners):

Arabella Barber - For leadership, support of others and willingness to share ideas in making a significant contribution to Taranaki's environment.

Arabella secured funding for composting bins to divert food waste at Stratford High School from going to landfill. She also won funding from the Taranaki Regional Council and Wild for Taranaki to plant 350 native trees along the Pātea River.

“To win this award is amazing. Getting recognised for all the hard work myself, other students and parents have done,” says Arabella.

Amber Cayley - For leadership, support of others and willingness to share ideas in making a significant contribution to Taranaki's environment.

Amber helped to transform parts of Sacred Heart Girls’ College in creating a native garden and is working to restore a waterway at the New Plymouth school.

“When you have a passion, anything is possible and I think the environmental sector is such a place and a field that needs that passion because it is something that we need to change today,” says Amber.

Environmental Leadership in Farming:

Glenn and Lynda Howatson - For leadership and excellence in environmental stewardship or sustainable farming and land use practices.

The eastern hill country farmers have planted more than 7,000 riparian plants and fenced hundreds of metres of waterways and taken steps to protect six wetlands. They hold a TRC Comprehensive Farm Plan and have used STRESS funding to plant trees on 37ha on their Kiore farm.

“I think we wanted to improve things and leave it better than what we started with,” Mr Howatson says.

Environmental Leadership in Climate Action:

Nova Energy - For taking action to adapt to a changing climate and transition to a low-carbon future for Taranaki.

The New Zealand company created the first grid-scale solar farm in the country in Kapuni, providing key data on how the energy sector can decarbonise.

Melany Hunt, Nova Energy Stakeholder, Community and Sustainability Leader, says: “Nova Energy developed the Kapuni solar power plant to demonstrate that electricity generation, the environment, tangata whenua and agriculture can coexist in a sustainable win-win environment. It takes a village to build a successful power plant and Nova Energy could not have done it without help from the Kapuni community and tangata whenua.” 

Environmental Action in Water Quality Improvement:

Taranaki Catchment Communities – For taking action to protect and enhance water quality and biodiversity values within water bodies in Taranaki.

The group is made up of farmers with a shared passion for a sustainable future. They work on a range of initiatives around Te Maunga, raising awareness of how fundamental freshwater is to our environment.

Paul Turner, Taranaki Catchment Communities Project Leader, says: “For us, water has always been an integral part of our culture and how we look after ourselves, our lifestyle in New Zealand. It’s maintaining that level of enjoyment in our waterways that we had in past generations and making sure future generations can have that same respect, understanding and love for what we’ve got here.”

Environmental Action in Biodiversity:

The 800 Trust - For commitment to supporting pest management and protecting biodiversity in Taranaki.

The Trust is working with others to return kiwi to the eastern Taranaki hill country. They care for 2000ha of native forest and retired farming east of Stratford and have removed thousands of invasive species from the area.

Trust member Miranda Wells says: “It’s a real honour to win this award. For the regional council to select us for the mahi we’ve doing here in Taranaki is awesome.”

Highly Commended

Environmental Action in the Community:
Tama Blackburn
Ngā Motu Marine Reserve Society

Environmental Action in Education:
WITT/Te Pūkenga

Youth Environmental Leader:
Piper Flashman
Holly Dixon
Drew Hoskin

Environmental Leadership in Farming:
Donald Bolton
Styger Rotokare Trust

Environmental Leadership in Climate Change:
Pregnancy Help Inc - Taranaki Branch
South Taranaki District Council

Environmental Action in Water Quality Improvement:
Otaraua Hapū Taiao Team

Environmental Action in Biodiversity:
Nick Jones (Rewild)
Karen Hamer and Robert Crookbain
Marc and Karin Tuffield