Title: Exotic Intruders

Author: Joan Druett

Publication details: Heinemann, 1983, Auckland

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Joan Druett

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Exotic Intruders

Chapter Five — The societies

page 88

Chapter Five
The societies

If the Association goes on and flourishes, it could not do better than send out by each ship that it charters, pairs of animals until it receives intelligence that a sufficient number to make the propagation of the species certain have safely landed.

—John Robert Godley

In 1875 a settler, Charles Hursthouse, published a book New Zealand, the Britain of the South, in which he made a strong case for the acclimatisation of game animals. 'New Zealand,' he said, 'should swarm with game.' He then went on to enthuse about the Elysian qualities of the New Zealand soil and climate, saying how perfectly adapted this new country was for the introduction of all game animals, large and small. He mentioned in particular that there was no 'destructive animal' that would prey on any introduced game. 'Deer,' he claimed, 'once introduced into feeding grounds and noble converts like Mount Egmont's ranges and the "Black Forest" (Nelson) territory, would never be exterminated.'

He believed that it would be beneficial for the hardworking settlers to have the opportunity of a day's sport. 'No man can better deserve;' he announced, 'no man can better afford a day's pastime than a New Zealand colonist!' This leisure time would be far better spent 'chasing the red deer and following the roe' than in 'relaxing in the laps of ballet girls.' 'Some day,' he said, 'New Zealand may have to set her squadrons in the tented field', and went on to declare that sportsmen would be better able to defend our fair country in time of war, as 'good soldiers must be good shots' and 'good shots are made by good shooting!'

During the 1840s and 1850s the settlers had established flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, orchards of fruit trees, fields of wheat, gardens of flowers and vegetables—but, despite all this, to the pioneers the land seemed strangely empty. The colonists remembered with sentiment trout and salmon in streams, deer in parks, hares and partridges in fields, grouse on hillsides, pheasants in spinneys and rabbits in warrens.

Leisuretime, for the hardworking New Zealand colonist, declared a writer of the time, would be far better spent in 'chasing the red deer and following the roe' than in 'relaxing in the laps of ballet girls'.

Leisuretime, for the hardworking New Zealand colonist, declared a writer of the time, would be far better spent in 'chasing the red deer and following the roe' than in 'relaxing in the laps of ballet girls'.

This new land could indeed be a land of pleasure, and, while the settlers may or may not have been resolutely turning their minds away from 'the laps of ballet girls', they certainly hankered after the game animals of home.

The more the issue was discussed, the more this country seemed a wonderful prospect for experiments in acclimatisation. Some prominent settlers, Buller among them, even advanced the notion that, since the native plant and animal life was doing so badly under the impact of man and his animals, it was doomed to extinction.

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The Canterbury Acclimatisation Society

In April 1864 a public meeting was held at the Christchurch Town Hall, presided over by the Provincial Superintendent, Samuel Bealey, who called on Frederick Weld to move the resolution that 'a Society should be formed called the Canterbury Horticultural and Acclimatisation Society.' The motion was seconded by Mark Stoddart, and carried—as well as a further motion to ask the Provincial Government to give, for the Society's disposal, the Government Domain and part of Hagley Park near the hospital. The Society was formally constituted on 25 April 1864, with Superintendent Bealey its first Patron and Weld its first President. Vice-presidents were the Venerable Archdeacon Matthias (a prime introducer of gorse), Sir John Cracroft Wilson (an importer of pedigree sheep), Dr Julius Haast, W. T. L. Travers (who exported New Zealand flora to England) and T. H. Potts (who imported azaleas and rhododendrons to this country). In May the Provincial Government granted the Society the use of 1.6 hectares of the Domain, between the river Avon and the Public Hospital. A cottage was built for the curator, Mr A. M. Johnson, and the Society was well and truly established.

In the years that followed the Society proved itself to be a vigorous and innovative organisation, involving itself wholeheartedly in the introduction of trout, salmon, small birds, pheasants, hares and rabbits. The Gardens at the Domain became a favoured spot with Christchurch citizens for family outings, as they could see deer, kangaroos, emus, a Californian bear, and ferrets that the Society bred on behalf of the Government. In 1897 the Society imported red deer from Stoke Park, Buckinghamshire, and liberated them in the Rakaia Gorge: these were the ancestors of the famous Rakaia deer herd. In 1885, after many attempts that failed, the Society succeeded in importing and acclimatising bumblebees, to the benefit of all the farmers of New Zealand.

In 1916 the inventory of stock in the Society's Gardens included pheasants, peacocks and peahens, quail, geese, ducks, both native and exotic, gulls, keas, various small birds, grey squirrels, angora goats, rainbow and brown trout, goldfish and perch. By 1918 the Society had built a new fish hatchery, considered the most advanced of its type in the Dominion, and in 1917 one million brown trout ova were sold. In addition to this 20 000 rainbow trout fry were taken from the hatchery and distributed in Lakes Pearson and Hawdon.

In 1922 the Hospital Board wanted to extend and build a new nurses' home. It needed at least part of the Society's ground. The Society debated this, and decided to vacate entirely. In November 1930 it purchased a property of 4 hectares at Greenpark—land it retains to this day—building a hatchery there that proved to be one of the most successful in New Zealand. In 1934 more than four million fry were raised. Today the page 91 Society continues its interest in fish management and conservation of freshwater resources. The game farm at Greenpark is also used at times for the raising of game birds like partridges. The management of swan, duck and geese populations also keeps the officers of the Society busy.

In 1917 the Society had a change of name: up until then it had been known as, simply, the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society, with all Annual Reports from 1864 to 1915 referring to the Society under this title. In the 1909 Rules it clearly stated 'this Society shall be called the "Canterbury Acclimatisation Society".' The 1917 Rules aver: 'The Society shall be called the "North Canterbury Acclimatisation Society".' Why? No-one knows. The present Society, despite hours of research by their Chief Executive, Mr Webb, does not know; the Wildlife Service of the Department of Internal Affairs does not know. It is one of life's little mysteries. In the meantime, in true appreciation of the leading role this Society played in the history of acclimatisation in New Zealand, I shall use the name by which the parade of colourful characters that belong to its past would have known it: the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society.

Black and white photograph of a Landrover at the edge of a waterway.

Therefore, these thinking men argued, plans should be made to replace the expiring ecosystem with the vigorous environment of pastoral England. So, with enthusiasm unmarked with premonitions of embarrassment, the pioneers began to embark on a programme of promoting the introduction of anything that stimulated pleasant memories of a summer boyhood in the woods and fields of home. Acclimatisation became a major topic at meetings of clubs, societies and councils. Newspaper articles appeared supporting the establishment of acclimatisation societies.

'From the day when the first emigrant of ships left the English shores to the present time,' said the Press in an impassioned editorial in 1861, 'Canterbury has carried on an endeavour, desultory indeed, and unsuccessful, but never wholly relinquished, to naturalise in our new home many of the birds and other animals of England: rabbits, hares, pheasants, partridges . . . and, with the one exception of rabbits, we believe without result.'

Haphazard individual attempts at acclimatisation like those mentioned in the editorial were recorded over and over again. In 1852 a group of colonists arriving on the William Hyde had tried to bring out various animals. They were more successful than most, managing to land some Muscovy ducks, some geese, a hen pheasant and a goat. Later that same year the Samarang arrived in Lyttelton with rabbits, and in 1854 the Akhbar came from Calcutta with a donkey, eight Tibetan goats, twenty rabbits, a hare, eight peahens, one peacock, two Chinese pigs and an Arab horse. For next few years attempts at acclimatisation like this were rife, and various gentlemen, Dr Julius Haast and Frederick (later Sir Frederick) Weld among them, felt that these random efforts could be better coordinated and organised.

They also felt that attempts at introducing animals should have a single stated aim. As Donne said later, 'The British sporting spirit broke out and spread like measles ... it affected all classes of the communities, who realised that here was an untenanted paradise for animals, birds and fishes, and then said, "Let's get 'em!'"

Accordingly everyone, from the wealthiest to the poorest, allied themselves to the cause of forming acclimatisation societies, with the aim of importing game animals, birds and fishes, and attending to their acclimatisation, development, distribution and protection. In 1864 The Lyttelton Times declared, 'We are glad to announce that acclimatisation at last stands a chance of being vigorously prosecuted in this province. Mr Weld and a few gentlemen have undertaken to form a society and to commence the good work. About fifty persons have already put their names down as subscribers. The first year's subscription is £5 and the annual subscription afterwards will be £2.2s.'

A letter by Mark Stoddard, one of the founder members, urged the need for an efficient committee to organise the importation of 'flights of insectivorous birds to correct the multiplication of destructive insects, caterpillars, blight, etc . . . Many of our mountain ranges,' he wrote, 'would form a home for the deer . . . and our sons may hunt venison introduced by their fathers.'

And so, with these words, the aims of the acclimatisation societies became twofold —to introduce game for sport, and to introduce other animals for control of pests. This opened the way for immediate controversy: some people disliked the societies for their interference with the environment for what they saw as the frivolity of sport, while allowing that the controls were beneficial in an agricultural country; others thought exactly the opposite. Acclimatisation was more hotly debated than ever before.

Some of the ideas of the aims of the societies can gleaned from their rules. These appear be to have been fairly standard throughout the country, and their basic statement was never changed, so that the Rules of the Wairarapa Acclimatisation Society are representative of all: page 93 'The objects of the Society shall be the introduction, acclimatisation, and domestication of all innoxious animals, birds, fishes, insects, etc; the perfection, propagation, and hybridisation of species newly introduced or already domesticated; the spread of indigenous animals, etc., from parts of the colony where they are already known to other localities where they are not known; the procuring, whether by purchase, gift, or exchange of animals, etc., from Great Britain, the British colonies, and foreign countries; the transmission of animals etc., from the colony to England, the British Colonies and foreign parts, in exchange for others sent thence to the Society; the holding of periodical meetings, and the publication of reports and transactions for the purpose of spreading knowledge of acclimatisation, and inquiry into the causes of success or failure; the interchange of reports, etc., with kindred associations in other parts of the world, with the view, by correspondence and mutual good offices, of giving the widest possible scope to the project of acclimatisation; the conferring of rewards, honorary or intrinsically valuable, upon sea-faring men, passengers from distant countries, and others who may render valuable services to the cause of acclimatisation.'

The societies imported game animals, birds, fishes and plants, acclimatised them, watched their development, oversaw their distribution, and extended their protection over them. Their revenue came from subscriptions, from the sale of ova and fry, and then, later, from the sale of licences for shooting and fishing. The names

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The Hawkes Bay Acclimatisation Society

At a meeting of the Hawkes Bay Agricultural Society on 27 January 1868, it was resolved 'that, as it is highly desirable to encourage the introduction of insectivorous birds, useful plants, and trees, an Acclimatisation Society be formed.' Within a month the Society was selling pheasants for five pounds a pair, and in April and May it was distributing seeds and vine cuttings.

For the next three years the Society was inactive, perhaps overwhelmed by the personal business of its members and by awe of the reputed performances of other societies. It is difficult to establish a month-by-month history, because all the records of the Society were destroyed in the 1931 earthquake. However in March 1871 the Hawkes Bay Herald was asking plaintively, 'Is nothing going to be done towards forming an Acclimatisation Society, or rather towards revivifying the one already in existence?'

In 1874 the Society demonstrated its revitalised existence in October, when it accepted delivery of a consignment of 650 birds from the Queen Bee . Later, in February 1875, it received a second delivery of birds, from the barque Hudson , after a record-breaking voyage of 84 days.

From then on the Society concentrated on acclimatising trout, salmon and game birds. The difficulty in maintaining high numbers of game birds was apparent here, as it was everywhere else in New Zealand, and the Society blamed hawks, offering a bounty of sixpence for each one killed.

It is notable that a loyal and constant committee member of the Hawkes Bay Acclimatisation Society was William Shrimpton, the man who introduced red deer to the Province.

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of many of the people who worked wholeheartedly for the societies are preserved in lists of committees and officers; but hundreds more, men who dug fish ponds, built hatcheries and aviaries, carried fry through the bush to secluded lakes, and counted ducks, pheasants and geese, are now anonymous.

Acclimatisation was not a colonial phenomenon — it was a fashion of the times. At the same time that the cause of acclimatisation was being promoted in New Zealand, an acclimatisation society had been formed in London, to introduce game birds, beasts and fishes into England, and in France the government was excited about the prospect of introducing salmon into French rivers. Prominent men everywhere lent their support. Dr Julius Haast took the opportunity of speaking to the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury: 'We should like to see the hare and the partridge in our fields, the stately deer, the roe, and the pheasant occupying our hills and our forests, whilst our Alpine rivers are well calculated for the propagation of the salmon and trout. The most rugged of our mountain summits,' he said, 'might become the venue of the chamois, and offer not only us, but to future generations, the excitement and manly pleasure of the chase.'

The Hudson was a 700 ton barque built in 1869 for the Shaw Savill Line. She made 13 voyages to New Zealand, the fastest being to Napier, in 84 days, in 1875. On this occasion she landed, besides 204 immigrants, a valuable cargo for the Hawkes Bay Acclimatisation Society, being a store of British birds, including 60 robins, 110 goldfinches and chaffinches, 44 partridges and 137 larks.

The Hudson was a 700 ton barque built in 1869 for the Shaw Savill Line. She made 13 voyages to New Zealand, the fastest being to Napier, in 84 days, in 1875. On this occasion she landed, besides 204 immigrants, a valuable cargo for the Hawkes Bay Acclimatisation Society, being a store of British birds, including 60 robins, 110 goldfinches and chaffinches, 44 partridges and 137 larks.

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Acclimatisation in Europe

The introduction of exotic animals into a new environment is by no means unique to nineteenth century Australia and New Zealand. The Romans were acclimatisers on a frivolous scale: the Egyptian mongoose, a pretty animal the size of a large cat and with a pointed nose, was once sacred to the ancient Egyptian goddess Mafdet, who gave protection against snake-bite. It became fashionable for Roman matrons to have one as a pet, and in this way the animal was introduced to Iberia. It is still found in Spain today, feeding mostly on rabbits and rodents, but also catching the virulently poisonous Montpellier snakes; it was introduced to Italy in the 1960s as a biological control against snakes.

The Romans were also fond of driving rabbits from their burrows with ferrets, and they bred the ferret for this sport from the wild polecat. It is popularly believed that the Romans introduced both the rabbit and the ferret to Britain so they could have their pleasure; other sources claim that this did not happen until the thirteenth century.

A much more recent introduction to Europe is the raccoon dog, a native of Thailand-Vietnam, brought to European Russia in 1927 for the fur trade. It thrived in the steppes of the new country; amazingly so, considering that it hails from the warm jungles of eastern Asia. The raccoon dogs spread westward and are now found as far away as Switzerland, Germany and Scandinavia. Their diet may have helped in their success: they are largely vegetarian, feeding on fruit, nuts and grain as well as insects, rodents and grass-snakes. The American mink was first farmed in Europe in the late 1920s, and, being as agile as the rest of the mustelids, quickly escaped and set up feral colonies. Again like the other mustelids, it is solitary when not breeding and so has rapidly spread. When news of this was first heard, there was general concern that it would be a serious competitor with the otter and European mink for available food. As far as the European mink is concerned, such concern has turned out to be justified; the American mink is a bigger, more aggressive animal, and evidence suggests that the European variety is going to be driven out before long. The otter, a more expert fisherman, is managing to coexist with the American mink.

Acclimatisation has also been a hobby of modern politicians. The American raccoon was introduced to Europe as a fur-bearer by the late unlamented Hermann Goering. He farmed the animals for a while, and then either the project failed or he got bored, and the raccoons were liberated. They have spread along the Mosel Valley and have been seen in the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The raccoons had to adapt to open country and have been very successful in this, as they have a wide range of diet and are happy living in close association with people, scavenging from rubbish tins and garbage dumps. They can be a nuisance on poultry farms, even climbing trees to take roosting fowls; they also raid vegetable and fruit crops, so cannot be described as a popular introduction.

The first piece of legislation to deal with acclimatisation was an Act passed in 1861 by the Provincial Council in Nelson and then by the Colonial Parliament, to 'encourage the importation of those animals and birds, not native to New Zealand, which would contribute to the pleasure and profit of the inhabitants, when they became acclimatised and were spread over the country in sufficient numbers.' The Act then specifically mentioned the game birds that were being introduced, which page 96 'would contribute to the pleasure of the settlers of New Zealand and help keep up these associations with the Old Country which it was desirable should be maintained.'

The Wellington Society's report for the year ended 31 March 1903 stated, 'One of the most important events during the past year has been the formation of an Acclimatisation Societies Association for the whole colony on 23 January. It is a governing body for the Colony to which the various Societies can become affiliated on application—the main purpose is to secure uniformity of action on acclimatisation matters.' The motive behind this move was to improve the management of acclimatisation matters—and, as the Government was now taking an active part in acclimatisation itself, to present an united front in dealings with the legislative body.

The Government even began to take over acclimatisation districts, starting with the Hot Lakes District. In the 1907 Annual Report of the Tourist and Health Resorts, presented to Parliament by the Rt. Hon. Sir J.G. Ward, the Honourable Member declared, 'The Department has since its establishment been in very close touch with sport and the acclimatisation of game and fish; but a somewhat new departure has been made during the year in placing Rotorua under immediate control of the Department. This step,' went on Sir Joseph, 'was taken in direct response to the petitions of the residents of the Rotorua district, who were dissatisfied with the control of the adminstration of the fishing and the assistance given them by the Auckland Society. The trout fishing in the Rotorua district'—and here we see the true source of interest—'has become a matter of colonial importance, and it is considered advisable that it be controlled directly by the Government.'

'Since the taking-over of the Rotorua district by the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts' the Government has received a petition from the Wairoa Acclimatisation Society asking that its registration be revoked and their district attached to the Rotorua district and placed under control of the same Department.'

The Colonial Parliament was particularly anxious that game birds should be introduced, to 'help keep up those associations with the Old Country'.

The Colonial Parliament was particularly anxious that game birds should be introduced, to 'help keep up those associations with the Old Country'.

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The Auckland Acclimatisation Society

The Auckland Acclimatisation Society was formed in 1867, and its district remains the largest acclimatisation district in New Zealand even though it lost the Hot Lakes area to the Government in 1905: today it extends from Rodney in the north to West Taupo in the south. In its first year it cost an interested citizen five shillings a year to join the new Society, or, if that citizen was one of the landed wealthy, he could buy a life membership for five pounds.

The Society's first project was to throw itself energetically into the importation of birds; in its first year it introduced game birds, emus, starlings, yellow hammers, skylarks, hedge sparrows, grey linnets, goldfinches and green finches, sparrows, blackbirds, thrushes, magpies, doves, pigeons, and, rather mysteriously, seagulls. It housed these birds in the large aviary it built on the Domain grounds, and in the next few years continued this ambitious programme, stopping only to complain about the mysterious character with gourmet tastes who was robbing the nests for delicacies in the middle of the night. The Society had some success with game birds, managing to acclimatise pheasants very rapidly.

It was regarded with affection by Sir George Grey, an eminent acclimatisator himself. He introduced two zebras to the region; other benefactors gave the Society sambur deer, wapiti, bandicoots, kangaroos, wallabies, opossums and monkeys. Like other societies, the Auckland Society paid bonuses to people who brought in tokens to show that they had killed hawks, shags, and other 'vermin'.

The Society was also interested in aquatic life, to the extent of importing Russian Carp and Australian frogs—extremely interested, in the case of frogs, as they kept on importing and liberating them until they were thriving throughout the swampy areas of the district. In 1872 the Society imported salmon ova and black and silver bass. In 1875 it received a shipment of 20 000 quinnat salmon ova which was supposed to go to the Hawkes Bay Society, but which was too ripe to transfer to its destination. The Society was fortunate in having a fish hatchery and ponds at the Domain, and in 1870 it received a batch of brown trout ova, donated by the Tasmanian Society. Much of this shipment had gone bad, but enough survived to make the building of the ponds and hatchery worthwhile. The climax of the Society's introduction of fish arrived in 1883, when they hatched out the first rainbow trout in New Zealand.

Today the Society is deeply involved in breeding and liberation of the Red-legged Partridge, as a future upland game bird in association with pheasant and quail. It is also conducting major research into usage of the Whangamarino Swamp area, to establish bird population numbers and vegetation distribution as well as recreational usage. With other societies, the Auckland Society is participating in a national angling survey, conducted by the Fisheries Research Division. The Society is also active in promoting certain exotic trees, including willow oak, Osage orange, and various cherry species.

There is a certain symmetry in the Society's history. In 1874, not long after its inception, its patron was Sir James Fergusson. Nearly a hundred years later, in 1967, at the Society's centennial, its patron was Sir Bernard Fergusson, another Governor-General and a grandson of the first.

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Donne and the New Zealand tourist paradise

Up until about 1900 the idea of promoting New Zealand as a tourist resort did not exist. Thomas Edward Donne, a senior official in charge of the 'tourist traffic' branch of the Railways, had a keen interest in angling and deerstalking and was a personal friend of Sir Joseph Ward. With this Minister's endorsement, Donne was free to indulge a fancy and set about catering for a dream—that New Zealand could be a tourist paradise.

The outcome of his drive and foresight was the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, which was established on the first of February 1901. Donne, naturally, was appointed the Head of this new body. He was so highly regarded that at the same time he was appointed Under-Secretary of the Department of Industries and Commerce, which was formed simultaneously. This gave him the opportunity to travel overseas and meet other sportsmen and make contacts for the introduction of new game animals.

Donne immediately put into effect plans for the Hot Lakes and Southern Alpine regions, building hotels and importing game and fish. He started the model pa at Whakarewarewa, and commenced the electrification of the little town of Rotorua— reaching back into the past as well as forward into the future. Under his visionary and practical guidance, the Department went from strength to strength, establishing the worldwide reputation that New Zealand has as a holiday resort today.

Black and white photograph of Thomas Edward Donne.
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The Department, and, incidentally, Donne—that acclimatisator extraordinary, who was Director then—must have been delighted with the acquisition: in the Report it remarked, 'The sport in the Rotorua district has in the past year been well up to the previous year's standard, and an enormous number of fish have been taken.' The Department took over a hatchery built by the Marine Department, and put an oil-launch and two new boats on Lake Tarawera.

There was no protest from the Acclimatisation Societies Association concerning this move. From this it seems apparent that, just as the societies were originally formed on the basis of the enthusiasm of a few and the fashions of a time, so they tended later on to founder for lack of support. It also became economically unsound for individual small societies to remain in existence. There was a growing movement in the country towards conservation and conservatism, and criticism of the societies for their mistakes—and others' blunders—was growing vociferous in the era of the rabbit and the small-bird nuisance.

'It is a matter for regret,' said Mr Bathgate to the Otago Institute in 1897, 'that the zeal of the earlier acclimatisers was greater than their knowledge, and that mistakes were made by them fraught with evil results of a far-reaching and permanent nature. Due care and consideration,' he protested, 'would have prevented the introduction of several undesirable immigrants, which now, like the poor, are always with us.' 'It is time drastic steps,' said Mr Poppelwell to the New Zealand Science Congress in 1929, 'were taken to cope with the evil being done to our fauna and flora by foreign importations.'

Obviously the societies were in for a very hard time. People did not look at the reduction of blighting insects: they looked at the birds eating their fruit. They did not count the huge trout in their streams: they counted the rabbits eating away the fields. One of the major problems of the societies was their unprofessional attitude to book-and record-keeping; they thought that the trout and deer were advertisement in page 100 themselves, and did not need written attention brought to them. Had they recorded the crops saved, the tourists brought and the sportsmen satisfied, they would have better been able to preserve their image when the conservationists made their voices heard.

In the event however, the societies were strong and adaptable enough to change their image, until they came to present the face they have today: as conservators and administrators of a sporting environment. In 1936 the Minister of Internal Affairs, addressing the annual conference of the New Zealand Acclimatisation Societies Association, expressed a desire to place societies generally on a better footing, principally in the direction of a national scheme of control. As a result of the conference two Councils were set up each to control the administration of acclimatisation affairs for its particular Island. The North Island societies were divided into six geographical groups, each of which was given one delegate. The South Island division was the same. The Councils then acted in liaison with Government Departments.

Government control of the societies was becoming tighter than ever. The 1946 Annual Report of the Department of Internal Affairs included this item: 'At the request of the Lakes District Acclimatisation Society the Government decided to assume control of the district controlled by the Society. The boundaries of the Southland, Otago and Westland Acclimatisation Districts were altered to permit of certain portions contiguous to the Lakes District being added there to, the new district thus formed, called the "Southern Lakes Acclimatisation District", being administered by this Department as from 1st September 1945.'

From this time on the functions of the societies were severely limited, confined largely to: conservation—the protection and preservation of absolutely protected wildlife; the promotion of sport—the issue of licences and management of fisheries; administration—making sure the provisions of the 1953 Wildlife Act were being followed; and, but only under very restricted and controlled circumstances, acclimatisation—in complete reversal to the original aim of the societies, this function is concerned mainly with the prevention of unauthorised liberations.

Today New Zealand is divided into 24 acclimatisation districts, of which 22 districts are administered by regional acclimatisation societies, and two districts— the Rotorua-Taupo area, or Central North Island Wildlife Conservancy, and the Wanaka-Wakatipu-Te Anau area, or Southern Lakes Conservancy—are under the control of the Department of Internal Affairs. Any member of the public can become a member of an acclimatisation society simply by buying a game or fishing licence, and then giving a section of the licence to the local society. In this way any game or fish sportsman can have a say in the conservation and management of the country's fish and wildlife resources.

The sole income of the modern acclimatisation societies comes from the sale of fishing and game-bird hunting licences. In the year up to 31 August 1980 this amounted to about 1.25 million dollars. Twenty percent of this is handed on to the central acclimatisation council, who use the money to buy wetlands, pay staff and fund research projects. Lately some of this money has been used to promote public understanding of what can happen to estuaries if major industrial projects are sited near them, or to free-flowing rivers if they are dammed for small regional hydro- page 101 electricity projects. In addition, about a hundred thousand dollars a year is paid to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries for freshwater fisheries research. Another ten thousand dollars a year is paid to the Department of Internal Affairs for similar research into wildlife. The bulk of the money is retained by the local societies to carry out their own conservation projects, and for wages and the expenses involved in issuing licences. Apart from this, volunteers put in many thousands of unpaid hours of enthusiastic work for their local societies and in the maintenance of the freshwater and game-bird habitats.

Netting of Canada geese

Netting of Canada geese

Management of Canada geese

Management of Canada geese

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The Waitaki Valley Acclimatisation Society

This Society is a recent example of the trend towards absorption of small societies into larger organisations as it becomes economically unsound for individual small societies to remain in existence. In 1967 the Waitaki Valley Acclimatisation Society was formed by the amalgamation of the the Waitaki Society (established 1877) and the Waimate Society (first formed in 1888). Both founding societies had been deeply involved in the acclimatisation of quinnat salmon; both had identical aims—the conservation of salmon fishing resources. Economics was the deciding factor that pushed them into amalgamation.

The present Society involves itself in waterfowl habitat improvement, with a programme of planting hardy shelter trees, and the management of Canada geese, waterfowl and game birds. But its main preoccupation is with freshwater fishing, which, in the opinion of this Society and of other societies is endangered by large hydro-electric power schemes in the lower Waitaki. In January 1980 two representatives from the Council were invited to a meeting at Kurow with senior power planning engineers from the Ministry of Energy, MAF Fisheries Research staff, the Waitaki Commission Engineer and Soil Conservator, and Dr Scott from Otago University.

Mr Fenwick, the President of the Waitaki Valley Acclimatisation Society, was adamant that the only way of maintaining the existing salmon run in the river and the present trout fishery was an amenity channel from the river mouth to the Hakataramea River. He pointed out that a salmon run could not be maintained by using fish ladders over dams. He was supported in this by Dr Glover of Canada, who said the quinnat salmon run in the Columbia River Scheme had been virtually wiped out by dams with fish ladders as very few fish would use them.

'Over the years numerous development schemes have substantially altered a large number of our rivers,' wrote Mr Fenwick in a letter to selected anglers, 'resulting in a cumulative loss of high quality angling waters. It has become increasingly obvious that if we want to retain even a few valuable recreational fisheries, we must identify those rivers which, in our opinion, should not be modified, and be prepared to fight for them.'

Counting tagged fish.

Counting tagged fish.

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The need to conserve habitats is now the overruling interest of the acclimatisation societies of New Zealand. It is understood that the development by major industries of natural resources is always disruptive and destructive of fish and wildlife habitats. The societies are uncomfortably aware that the country's heritage of free-flowing rivers, wetlands, hills, fernlands, and estuaries is in danger: less than ten percent of the original wetlands remain. These wetlands are the habitat of pukekos and grey ducks as well as mallards; and of white herons and paradise ducks as well as black swans and imported geese. By conserving such habitats and by protecting game-birds out of season and most native birds all the time, the societies continue to perform an invaluable service.