A down-to-earth champion for the New Zealand Nature Fund

for Graeme
20 Jun 2024
Last week we introduced our new board member; Graeme Ayres. With a storied past and decades of experience across New Zealand's wild places, he's ideally placed to use his skills in governance to help the NZ Nature Fund. But who is Graeme? And what is it that drove him to join the NZNF? Read on. Meet Graeme. It's a cracking tale.

A down-to-earth champion for the New Zealand Nature Fund

Graeme Ayres, recently appointed as a trustee of the New Zealand Nature Fund (NZNF), brings decades of hands-on conservation experience to the role. A seasoned conservationist with a pragmatic approach, Graeme’s journey is rooted in a deep connection to New Zealand’s natural landscapes. His straightforward, no-nonsense style reflects his commitment to getting things done for the environment.

A life immersed in nature

Graeme’s love for nature began early, growing up in the scenic surroundings of Franz Josef and later Mount Cook. “I’ve always had that element of me that nature was really cool,” he says. “I was the first pupil at the Mount Cook school, and we had correspondence classes. It was amazing to be part of such a unique setting.”

His father, Harry Ayres, was a towering figure in Graeme’s life and career. “My dad was Chief Guide and Ranger at Mount Cook, and he had a strong connection to the outdoors,” Graeme recalls. Harry was not just any guide, but a significant figure in New Zealand mountaineering history, closely associated with Sir Edmund Hillary. “Dad and Ed had a very good relationship,” Graeme explains. “They both ascended what is now called the Hillary Ridge.”

Harry’s influence on Graeme was profound, instilling in him a deep respect for the environment and a passion for conservation. “I swore I’d never follow in his footsteps, but here I am,” Graeme admits with a chuckle. His father’s legacy of dedication to the natural world set the stage for Graeme’s own path in conservation.

Decades of conservation work

Graeme’s career with the Department of Conservation (DOC) spanned over 40 years, during which he held various roles from ranger to operations manager. “I spent the first 25 years or so on the front lines of conservation,” he says. His work took him to diverse regions, including the Chatham Islands and the glaciers of Franz Josef.  H

Graeme’s journey began with on-the-ground roles, where he experienced firsthand the challenges and rewards of conservation work. “I started as a ranger at Franz Josef, working in some of the most stunning but demanding environments,” he shares. This early experience honed his practical skills and deepened his appreciation for New Zealand’s unique ecosystems.

One of his notable experiences was participating in New Zealand’s deep-field Antarctic expeditions. “I was part of the Deep Field exhibition in 1979,” Graeme shares. “It was a profound experience that deepened my understanding of environmental preservation.” This exposure to global conservation efforts broadened his perspective and reinforced his commitment to protecting natural habitats.

Travelling around the country, Graeme also spent seven years at Tongariro National Park with a remarkable team of Park Managers. “It was a complex and wonderful experience engaging with Ngati Tuwharetoa, the true beginning of cultural awareness.”

In later years, Graeme moved into more corporate roles within DOC, focusing on strategic planning and management. “I was involved in everything from pest control to habitat restoration,” he says. Despite the shift to a more administrative role, his connection to fieldwork remained strong. “In later years, I felt increasingly removed from the stuff I loved,” he admits. “So when the opportunity with the NZNF came up, it was exactly what I had been looking for.”

Joining the New Zealand Nature Fund

Graeme’s decision to join the NZNF was driven by a desire to leverage his experience for greater impact. “Dennis Marshall got a hold of me and asked if I’d like to join the Nature Fund,” Graeme recalls. “I thought, ‘This is exactly the sort of thing I’ve been looking for.’”

The NZNF’s mission aligns perfectly with Graeme’s vision of creating sustainable, impactful conservation initiatives. “The model of the NZNF is unique,” he notes. “It’s not just about funding projects but ensuring those funds are used effectively.”

Making a difference with a pragmatic approach

Graeme is focused on enhancing the NZNF’s strategic approach to ensure donations make a tangible difference. “We need to assure donors that their funds are being spent wisely,” he emphasises. “It’s about providing transparency and showing the direct benefits of their contributions.”

He sees significant potential in the fund’s model, particularly in supporting underfunded yet critical conservation efforts. “There’s an enormous opportunity to work with trusts and local communities,” Graeme says. “We can channel funds to where they are most needed and have the greatest impact.”

Thinking globally, acting locally

Graeme’s vision extends beyond New Zealand’s borders. “There’s a substantial international opportunity for the NZNF,” he asserts. He points to the importance of protecting unique ecosystems like the Auckland Islands, home to endangered species such as the Antipodean albatross.

“These places are unique to the biodiversity they harbour,” Graeme explains. “They are treasures that give us insights into environmental changes and indicators of broader ecological health.”

Leaving a legacy

As Graeme steps into his role with the NZNF, he reflects on the broader implications of his work. “It’s about creating a legacy,” he says. “Using my 47 years of experience in environmental management to benefit frontline conservation efforts.”

He emphasizes the need for a collaborative approach, working alongside government agencies, local communities, and international partners. “We’re not bound by bureaucracy,” he asserts. “Our goal is to make a real, measurable difference.”

Looking ahead

Graeme is optimistic about the future of the NZNF and its potential to drive meaningful change. “The people involved are passionate about making a difference,” he says. “It’s great to be part of such a dedicated group.”

His pragmatic yet visionary approach promises to help steer the NZNF towards new heights, ensuring that New Zealand’s natural heritage is preserved for generations to come. “We have an incredible opportunity,” Graeme concludes. “And I’m excited to see what we can achieve together.”

Graeme Ayres is a true steward of New Zealand’s natural wonders, and we’re lucky to have him contribute his energy and expertise as he dedicates his experience, passion, and straightforward commitment to conservation.

Protecting and restoring nature is needed more than ever
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