Q: What does sustainability mean?
The former Minister of Conservation, recipient of the Queen’s Service Order, and owner of Hawkshead Wines in Central Otago, wants to see the wine industry more directly engaged in conservation and biodiversity.
Denis is the chair of the New Zealand Nature Fund, which he founded in 2000 with a belief that more contribution from the private sector and corporate world was needed to support “game-changing” conservation work. The Nature Fund brings together philanthropists, investors, public, private, community organisations, conservation experts and project leaders.
It recently formed a relationship with Kinross in the Gibbston Valley, which has pledged its support as a donor. The five wine partners of Kinross are Kinross Wines, Valli, Coalpit, Wild Irishman, and Hawkshead. The fund has also initiated discussions with New Zealand Winegrowers around building more relationships with wine companies.
Denis says investment and funding for the protection and restoration of New Zealand’s biodiversity is more important than ever, with previously significant contributions from the tourism industry having dried up overnight due to Covid-19, while indigenous species remain at great risk.
The Nature Fund works alongside Government organisations, but Denis says the charitable status brings tax advantages and makes it a more efficient and effective way to raise cash for conservation projects. “We studied overseas models, such as the National Parks organisations in the USA and Australia that raise hundreds of millions of dollars for conservation.”
After a period of sitting quietly in the background, “we have now rebranded, re-energised and re-engaged”, says Denis. “Because there’s a lot of work to do, and Government will never be able to do it all itself.”
The fund’s focus is primarily on restoring biodiversity in the nature conservation space, working with threatened and endangered species. “We’re a non-advocacy group so we don’t campaign for causes. We look to provide support for causes that need additional funding, especially threatened species work.”
Current key project areas include Fiordland, predator control, recovery and breeding programmes for threatened species including takahē and kākāriki karaka (orange fronted parakeet), and support of a multi-layered Greater Christchurch, where nature is at the heart. The Nature Fund has previously played roles in supporting projects on Little Barrier Island, and the establishment of the Rakiura National Park on Stewart Island/Rakiura.
Denis has always held a strong conservation philosophy, and the Hawkshead wine label was inspired by the drawings of naturalist William Swainson, whose natural history folios of birds, butterflies and tropical shells, and drawings of early Wellington landscapes and dwellings created valuable historical records.
As one of William’s descendants, Denis inherited the same love for the natural world. When he and Ulrike Kurenbach settled in Gibbston and planted their first grapes in 2001, they chose the name of William’s first 1841 home in New Zealand for their family vineyard.