New Zealand has the highest rate of threatened species in the world. There are so many species like the Grand Skink around the country that need our protection. And this doesn’t come cheap, or easy. This is where the power of collaboration comes into play.

In 2011, as the Western Grand skink edged to the brink of extinction in the wild, the Department of Conservation (DOC) launched a last-ditch mission to capture the few remaining skinks. They caught what they believed to be the last few here on Lake Hāwea Station and took them to a breeding facility in the hope they would reproduce. Unfortunately breeding in captivity had limited success and their fate in the wild looked uncertain.

For eight years it was unknown if Western Grand Skinks had survived. Then in April 2019, having recently heard of their plight, I organised an expedition lead by Dr. Carey Knox, aka ‘Dr. Skink’, myself, and 16 undergraduate students from the USA. We ventured out to see what we could find.

Regenerative land on lake Hawea

On the first day of searching, we were devastated to have not found any. However, there was still hope, as the cryptic nature of skinks makes them very elusive. Late on the second day, jubilation, Carey had found one! On the third day we refined our search area and found a further 18 skinks and one juvenile. We were thrilled, the Western Grands weren’t ‘ex-skinked’. 

However, these 19 individuals were still dangerously close to extinction, and we knew that while they had survived these last years, they were still highly at risk from all sorts of predators: cats, hedgehogs, mice, stoats, ferrets, and rats. So, we got trapping. In our most recent survey in 2022 we found close to 40 adult skinks. They were alive – and better still, breeding. The population that was once left for dead has become viable – it is growing.
Skink in Lake Hawea

For us at Lake Hāwea Station (LHS), as custodians of our whenua (land) and endemic species, it is critical we work to regenerate the landscape, improve biodiversity, and enhance carbon sequestration across this fragile ecosystem. As well as the Western Grand Skink, LHS is home to other endangered species such as the Tree Daisy, Cyprus Hebe, Clutha Flathead Galaxiid (New Zealand’s second-rarest fish) and our native falcon, the kārearea.

Our farming system and tourism operations both place a significant burden on the environment, though they also generate revenue that can drive conservation. For us, it is so important to do more good than harm, which is why we invest so much in restoration and endeavor to share the stories of this land and its taoka. We want our impact to be net positive, leaving the land – and this place – better than when we first stepped on it.

Falcon bird in motion
Falcon bird landing on native bush

To contribute to local conservation efforts, find out about volunteering opportunities, or learn how your trip can become more sustainable and regenerative, click here and learn how to help!

Finn Ross is a Hāwea local, the founder of Carbonz, co-chair of Future Farmers NZ, a PHD candidate at the Blue Carbon Lab, and the biodiversity and sustainability director at Lake Hāwea Station.

Family of farm owners with their dog