Ducks Unlimited NZ
Thursday, 05 September 2019 21:54

Letter to the Editor:

Written by Mark Newcomb
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Attitude change

I have been a member of DUNZ since the early 1980s, and a past Director. I owned my first wetlands in 1962 when I was 18 (100 acres in the Waimarino Wetlands, now known as the Deans Block), and I have been actively involved in wetland ownership and preservation ever since. I am currently a partner in the wonderful ‘Home of the Duck’ wetlands in Broadlands.

I have been a keen shooter most of my life, but now chose not to shoot live game. I still  attend duck season opening weekend, set  decoys and call birds, but decided to not kill birds any more. Even so, I still cannot help but draw a mental bead on any duck or pheasant that flies past, and I enjoy clay bird shooting. As a youngster with my father I have shot godwit on the Manukau tidal flats outside the then Henry Kelliher home. I think it was legal then, maybe not! I have shot sparrow and pigeon at the Auckland Met Gun Club, seagulls, hawks, and starlings when I got bored as a stroppy young duck shooter,  pheasant, and quail, and duck aplenty. On  reflection, I am not pleased with some of my shooting decisions, but I have many  wonderful memories of shooting seasons past and the camaraderie that accompanies the hunt.

The reason for this preamble is to firmly place myself in the shooters camp, although I no longer shoot birds. I feel my past and present experience give me a fairly balanced view of wetland conservation trends, and I would like to once again raise the old discussion on the position and relevance of Ducks Unlimited in a modern society. There are many indications of the modern city view of shooters.

A recent (June 2013) Campbell Live programme on TV3 highlighted the scorn heaped on swan cullers. Even though it was entirely legal, and possibly environmentally justifiable, it was presented in the worst  possible way. It was hard not to see this as a pretty squalid and cruel affair.

With the urbanisation of the country and more farms being turned into larger corporate style holdings, there seems to be less and less city folk interested in shooting game. Indeed, there has been a very strong swing against shooting with a majority seeing killing birds for ‘sport’ as barbaric. Forget the argument that their lamb chop for dinner has come from a cute baby sheep- live bird shooting is seen as a  brutal and despised occupation. There used to be scores of cars and utes, loaded with eager blokes and an over excited Labrador dog and towing a shabby duck punt, all heading out of Auckland for that first May weekend. This last year I was on the southern migration, and several of us remarked that we saw very few like minded souls. Many traditional swamps and ponds seem undershot compared to years past.

I am blessed to live in the Mahurangi region, close to the magnificent Tawharanui Regional Park. Apart from some of the world’s most beautiful coastline, this park has a total predator control system and a significant wetland presence. Ducks  Unlimited and Banrock Station Wine donated a very generous $40,000.00 to the wetland  development a few years ago. I was at a recent Queen’s Birthday planting exercise with a turnout of about 180 volunteers over two days. There was a cross section of the community, but all with a conservation bent. Speaking with some of those present, there seemed an underlying feeling that Ducks Unlimited was a vaguely threatening entity to have as a benefactor. There is that strong perception that Ducks Unlimited is a shooters ‘club’, and certainly I cannot dispute the general correctness of this. I would have found it difficult to find DU membership prospects.

I note with interest that the Directors of DUNZ are engaging with other like minded groups in an endeavour to harness the  combined membership of other environmental groups, all whom seem to be confronting  similar dwindling membership. It is a concept that makes sense to me. As an aside, where does The National Wetland Trust fit into all of this?

Is now a time to yet again consider a change of name and direction? The direction would be much the same as the existing core principal of Ducks Unlimited- preserving and creating wetland habitat- but the emphasis would come off the shooting of ducks.

We already have a vehicle in the DU affiliate “Wetland Care”, and maybe this could be pushed to the fore?

There would be major problems involved. Would this alienate existing members, most of whom are keen hunters, and who have  traditionally been the backbone of DU? Would it excite any potential new members in major numbers? Would it encourage sponsors? Is there the energy, resources or passion to  rejuvenate this group?

I am conscious of the danger of being a  standoff commentator with no real input to a solution, if indeed one is needed. I hope my comments are taken as positive input into a group that has been doing such fantastic  environmental work over many years.

Mark Newcomb


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