Forest and Bird founded

28 March 1923

New Zealand Native Bird Protection Society poster, 1920s
New Zealand Native Bird Protection Society poster, 1920s (Alexander Turnbull Library, Eph-D-BIRDS-1926-01)

The New Zealand Native Bird Protection Society was formed at a meeting in Wellington called by a local conservation advocate, Captain Ernest ‘Val’ Sanderson. Former prime minister Sir Thomas Mackenzie was elected as the first president of the new body, which was intended to complement the work of the New Zealand Forestry League in protecting native forests.

Sanderson had led protests about the failure to fence off the Kāpiti Island nature reserve, and Mackenzie encouraged him to broaden his focus to advocating ‘the efficient protection of our native birds … and unity of control of all wild life’. The new society effectively replaced H.G. Ell’s moribund Forest and Bird Protection Society, and took its name after Ell’s death in 1934.

A skilful publicist, Sanderson attacked the failure of acclimatisation societies and the Department of Internal Affairs to protect native birds. He also popularised the use of the term ‘wild life’ to describe animals and birds ‘living in a wild state, whether protected or game, native or introduced’.

In the late 1920s the society focused on the need to combat the ‘deer menace’. Internal Affairs responded by appointing the energetic Captain George Yerex to head this campaign.

An advocate for businesslike ‘efficiency’ and an admirer of the wildlife and fish and game commissions that had been set up in some American states, Sanderson suggested the appointment of a board of ‘gentlemen skilled in forest and bird life’ and ‘conservation’ to oversee wildlife matters. This never occurred, but the creation of a Wildlife Branch within Internal Affairs in 1945 was a significant step towards ‘unity of control’. Sanderson died a few months later, having since 1933 been president of the society he had founded and built up.

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