Garden Heroes: Ian McLennan



We want to recognise those in the community who are making a positive impact through gardening and all that it encompasses. Our Daltons Garden Heroes celebrate those who are gardening for the greater good and we share their inspiring story with you.

A native sanctuary in the bay - Ian McLennan

Ian McLennan: Garden Hero

Our latest Daltons Garden Hero is a dedicated man who works quietly behind the scenes with others to help restore and preserve a gem on Banks Peninsula. 

Ōtamahua/Quail Island is a special place for many Cantabrians who remember and still partake in school trips or family outings to the island, and it’s a popular place with tourists. Publicly-owned, it is administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC), and protected and cared for by DOC, the Ōtamahua/Quail Island Ecological Restoration Trust and Ngāti Wheke of Rāpaki. 

Created in1998, the Trust aims to restore indigenous vegetation and fauna, and provide refuge for locally extinct, or rare and endangered species of the Banks Peninsula region. 

The 81-hectare island was originally covered with native forest, but lost its forest cover to fires sometime after 1200 AD.  

Loyal volunteers have worked hard over the last 20 years to restore the native ecology of the island. During this time, all pests (except for mice) have been eradicated and thousands of trees and grasses have been planted as part of an eco-restoration project in partnership with the Trust, Department of Conservation and Ngāti Wheke of Rāpaki. Native bird numbers have increased thanks to the plantings which provide more nesting sites and varied food sources.

Eco-restoration of the island

The restoration project is championed by the Trust and their team of volunteers who contribute over 5,600 hours annually weeding, planting and monitoring traps. The island is slowly being transformed to its original state.

Ian McLennan, Chairman of the Ōtamahua/Quail Island Ecological Restoration Trust is one of these volunteers. Modest in talking about his role, he has been working with the Trust for over 10 years. A love of the island and volunteering runs in the family.  

“My brother was involved with the Trust early on and was Chairman for a long time. I have been going to the island for 15 years but seriously got involved about 10 years ago.” 

“I started doing the odd planting day and then organising the volunteer workdays and eventually ended up on the Trust. And you know how these things go, I took over as Chairman in 2011.” 

When asked about what draws him to the island, Ian says; “We’ve all just put so much effort into that island and we can’t stop now. It’s a special place for me. I know every corner, and my worries and stresses disappear when I hit the wharf on the other side. It is a great place.”

Planting the seed

The restoration project was initially a concept of local botanist, Dr Colin Burrows, someone Ian holds great respect for. 

“For me, there is also a bit of a personal obligation to the island. Dr Colin Burrows, who was the driving force behind the project, died in 2014, so for me, it’s continuing his legacy. He worked at Canterbury University and had a colossal amount of knowledge. One of Colin’s students, Ray Genet, completed his MSc thesis on the possibility of restoring the native vegetation on Quail Island. 

“It was a bit leap of faith to go to a bare, dry island and start planting trees. Some people said that they were nuts, but it worked out alright.”

When it comes to the restoration project, Ian says first is reforestation, then come the birds. 

“The thing about restoring an island is to know what you are doing it for. For us it’s to bring the birds, insects and reptiles back. We had a restoration plan written which includes the measures of success of the planting. One of the measures is to have three key indicator species breeding on the island; kereru, bellbird and the shining cuckoo.”

Ian says the reason the three birds were chosen is because they rely on different types of food. 

“The bellbird is primarily a nectar and insect feeder; the kereru eats leaves and ripe fruit and the shining cuckoo specialises in caterpillars.” 

The three birds have been successfully breeding on the island since 2016, which Ian says is a great achievement. 

“It’s an indication that the plantings have been a success. Because we’ve got enough food, these birds to want to stick around. And no ecosystem is complete without having insects and reptiles as well.”

Adding in the mix

Daltons have been a supporter of the restoration project for four years, supplying bags of seed raising mix each year for the silver tussock (Poa cita, a native grass), re-planting programme and any other planting needs.

The summit was originally covered in silver tussock and the Trust has been slowly replanting it with the grass once again. 

“We collect existing silver tussocks from around the island. It doesn’t grow well in shade, so where planted trees are shading them, we remove the plants, split them up and repot them. We leave them to grow on for a year, then replant out around the summit. We’ve been doing this for about 10 years now.”

The volunteering help and love of the island stretches internationally. Each July, a group of students from the University of Florida come to New Zealand to help out on the island and pot up tussock plants for a day. The tussocks are planted in June to ensure the pots are empty and ready for the students again on the 14th July this year. 

“We also keep a few bags of the Daltons seed mix over and our staff find native seedlings in odd places so they dig them out and pot them up. We’ve got a nationally endangered plant on the island called Cooks scurvy grass. We collect the seeds and use the mix to pot them up and plant them out later.”

Ian said having Daltons support makes his job easier. “One of our biggest threats at the moment is argentine ants and rainbow skinks, both of which could be transported in potting mix. We can rely on Daltons products to have no bugs or weeds as they take great care with their pest control.”  

It takes a village

Volunteers are essential to the restoration project. There are nine people on the Trust’s board who provide a range of expertise and skills, and the Trust employ a part time administrator and two island staff. 

“Our two-part time workers and Bernice, one of our permanent volunteers, go over to the island two days each week. Bernice has been doing this as long as I can remember. It’s quite special to find volunteers like that”.

When asked what is the biggest issue the island and Trust face, Ian is quick to respond; funding. 

“The whole operation is about $80,000 per year which is a big investment. We rely on our sponsors, people becoming members and giving regular donations.” 

Membership is just $35 per year for individuals or $60 for a family. 

Ian continues, “The Rata Foundation has been our biggest supporter, and we have the restaurants Tutto Bene and Formaggio’s, the Whaka-Ora Healthy Harbour project, LPC Port of Christchurch, Christchurch City Council, and other organisations who have been incredibly generous over the years.”

Looking at the future of the island, Ian says, “It’s multi-generational. We’ve been planting for 20 years and it is starting to look okay, but it’s going to be another 100 years before it bears any resemblance to what was lost. We need the next generation to carry on the work with the same commitment.”

For more information about Ōtamahua/Quail Island or to become a member, visit


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