SOSSI founding Chairman Allan Parker passed away this Auckland Anniversary weekend. SOSSI management committee and Auckland Council representatives reflect on his involvement with Shakespear Open Sanctuary.
Allan and Elaine Parker purchased a property on Everard Avenue adjoining the newly formed Shakespear Regional Park in the early 1970’s. At that stage the park was little but a farm with no roads or facilities. The Whangaparaoa peninsula in those days was an isolated area of farmland and holiday baches far beyond the city’s furthest reaches. Nowadays the city has come to meet the peninsula and the park is a mature regional park and open sanctuary hosting over half a million visitors per year.
Allan has been a passionate visitor to and supporter of Shakespear. When plans began in the early 2000’s for the development of an open sanctuary, Allan was instrumental in the formation of Shakespear Open Sanctuary Society in 2002 and served as foundation Chair from 2002 to 2013 and remained on the management committee until 2015. Allan was awarded a Life Membership of SOSSI in 2014 to recognise his service to the society.
Under Allan’s leadership SOSSI entered into partnership with the then Auckland Regional Council, now Auckland Council. Three distinct phases of the society are identified during Allan’s chairmanship. The early days for SOSSI were one of lobbying and creating awareness. Allan as Chair was effective in engaging with regional and local politicians to shore up support for the proposal and to ensure it became committed to relevant planning documents. Allan was effective in using his political experience and networks to ensure support for the project was widespread and enshrined in public plans, ensuring no wriggle room for the general but non-specific undertakings given at the time. As Chair of SOSSI Allan attended Shakespear Working Group meetings and other forums, developing and strengthening working relationships with the council and with other project partners such as the YMCA Shakespear Lodge, NZ Defence Force and Watercare Services Ltd
From about 2007 the concept of an open sanctuary at Shakespear began to gather momentum. As plans began to firm up for the sanctuary development SOSSI transitioned from a lobbying group to a support and fundraising entity. SOSSI was successful in raising over $600,000 as the community contribution toward the initial cost of the pest proof fence, exceeding the original half a million dollar target set. Some of the grant funds secured were instrumental in securing the construction of the fence as some funds were time bound, requiring the council to commit their funding share in a matching timeframe.
The 2010/11 period saw the realisation of the open sanctuary with the construction of the pest proof fence and closure of the park for animal pest eradication and SOSSI entered into it’s third and current phase as partners in New Zealand’s most accessible and visited wildlife sanctuary. Shakespear is also unique among eco-sanctuaries in that it integrates intensive conservation with farming and recreation on the regional parkland and with military and wastewater treatment activities on the included lands adjoining the park.
In the five years following pest eradication the open sanctuary has enjoyed a wonderful recovery of native wildlife including several species that were previously unknown, suppressed to undetectable levels by predatory mammals. 2015 saw the first reintroduction of a missing bird species to the open sanctuary, the whitehead or popokatea. It was wonderful to be able to invite Allan and Elaine Parker to help liberate the first of these new arrivals into their new home at a celebratory event on NZ Defence land.
Informing and educating Aucklanders, particularly youth, of the need for wildlife conservation was a passion for Allan. Allan was a key leader in developing SOSSI’s education programme and establishing relationships with local schools, many of which return year after year for the sanctuary experience.
As Allan’s illness progressed he had to reduce his involvement with the sanctuary and SOSSI operations yet found the energy to remain involved throughout. In periods of better health Allan was his cheerful smiling sel,f joining in with planting days and volunteer activities and also visiting and enjoying the park with friends and family.
Farewell Allan, we thank you for your leadership of SOSSI, for your unrelenting commitment and passion for the open sanctuary, and for your friendship and humour. You will be sorely missed.