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The Central Otago Ecological Trust

We are a group of Alexandra residents with interests in wildlife conservation and community participation. We know the community is interested in conservation in Central Otago but has little opportunity to act when it comes to fauna conservation. Therefore, in March 2005 we formed a charitable trust (Central Otago Ecological Trust). The trust has partnerships with the Department of Conservation, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, and the Central Stories Museum, and is supported by foundation members, donators, volunteers, and a range of professionals with specialist skills.

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Otago green skink. Carey Knox  . 


Our vision

The Central Otago Ecological Trust’s primary goals are to:

  • Provide opportunities for Central Otago communities to be actively involved in conservation.

  • Educate people about the special values of dryland ecosystems.

  • Reintroduce fauna that has been lost from the Alexandra basin.


The Trustees

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Trust advisors

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Kanuka. Anna Yeoman

Grant Norbury

Grant is a wildlife ecologist with Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, with 38 years of research experience on species interactions, invasive species ecology and management, and methods for restoring and protecting native species. He specialises in predator-prey ecology and currently leads a large multi-disciplinary research programme on eradicating a suite of invasive mammals from New Zealand. He works alongside national and regional government, Iwi, philanthropic organisations, community groups and landholders.


Grant is a member of several conservation advisory groups and is the Chair and founder of the Central Otago Ecological Trust. He believes a key part of restoring lost biodiversity is showcase sites, like the Mokomoko Dryland Sanctuary, where people can experience for themselves what a repaired ecosystem looks like with its original inhabitants of indigenous flora and fauna. Such sites provide important benchmarks that people can relate to, which will ultimately lead to greater public support for expanding the network of restored ecosystems across New Zealand.

Read more about Grant here...

Tom Lamb

Tom Lamb, now retired, began his working life in agriculture and managed irrigated sheep and beef properties in Roxburgh, Omakau and Hawea before settling on a small holding in Alexandra. A change in direction into business as a building contractor was followed by 17 years as an Industrial chaplain to the staff of many Central Otago companies.


As well as an interest in conservation in general and COET in particular he enjoys music and is a member of the Central Otago Regional Orchestra. For the last 20 years he was a trustee and chair of the Creative Arts Trust in Dunedin which has an art studio available for members of the Mental Health Community established subsequent to the closing of Cherry Farm. 


Tom is married to Lynne.  They have 5 adult children and several  grandchildren spread around New. Zealand and South Dakota. 

Jan Kelly

Jan grew up on a farm on the Otago sea coast, and has always felt part of the natural world. She was educated in Dunedin, then worked for 22 years as an academic cartographer at the University of Auckland, developing an interest in how people perceive and represent the world as they see it.

Living on a kauri block north of Auckland with nesting moreporks and kereru led to protection of that property under a QEII Trust Open Space Covenant in 1995. Returning to Otago in 2001, Jan has adjusted to not having fragrant forest out the window, and has concentrated on developing habitat for the local McCann’s skinks which naturally occupy the drylands around her house: trying to “think like a skink” to understand how they live, and out of curiosity, carrying out a study of their social interactions. The Mokomoko Dryland Sanctuary created by COET is a natural and significant extension of this interest.

Gordon Rayner

Gordon and his partner, Mary Tritt have three children, and moved to Letts Gully in 1983.  Gordon has been one of five partners in Checketts McKay, Lawyers, Central Otago, since 1986, and is based in their Alexandra office.  Checketts McKay has interests in offices at Cromwell and Wanaka. Gordon’s work is principally property conveyancing, small businesses, trusts and estates. He is a director of Checketts McKay Mortgage company.

His recreational interests include mountain biking, kayaking, skiing, snorkelling, reading, camping and travel.  Gordon was a member of the New Zealand kayak team in 1979.  He competed at the 1979 World Championships in Quebec, Canada as a member of the NZ Rafting team and was awarded Otago University Blue for kayaking in 1979.  He competed at Chuya Rally (preceded the World Rafting Championships) in Russia (1989) and USA (1990). Gordon is a Conservation Officer for Central Otago Whitewater and is involved in the Hawea River Whitewater Enhancement project. He coaches the Dunstan Kayaking team which is ranked 3rd  New Zealand school team.

Anna Yeoman

Anna is mum to three young children. She and her husband Ollie made the shift from Dunedin to Alexandra in 2015. Anna has trained and worked as an early childhood teacher for a number of years, and more recently has been studying science communication, focusing on creative non-fiction writing. She became involved with COET while completing an internship with them in 2019. 

Anna loves creative projects, being active outdoors, and adventures of all types. She has a lifelong connection with Central Otago, which has recently developed into an interest in its little known native flora and fauna. 

She sees restoration projects, however small, as acts of hope and faith in our incredible world. Joining others in a local community project such as this seems a wonderful way of responding to the often disturbing bigger ecological picture of our times, as well as being a whole lot of fun! Wandering the rocks of Mokomoko looking for these beautiful lizards is now one of her favourite pastimes.  

Francie Diver

Frances is Ngai Tahu, Waitaha, Kati Mamoe. She has lived in Central Otago for 38 years and with her husband has jointly raised a family and owns an aquaculture business in Alexandra. Frances maintains a passionate involvement with the Maori community throughout this time with a focus on developing better opportunities in employment, education and whanau ora.


Frances has a clear understanding of governance through her experience as:

  • Director of Crop and Food Research Institute

  • Presiding Member of Otago / Southland Lottery Community Committee

  • Chairperson Central Otago Branch of SF (supporting Families living with Mental Illness)

  • Chairperson CO Child Care and Protection Resource Committee

  • Takata Whenua representative for Central Otago Health Inc

  • Taua Whakaruruhau with Roxburgh Te Puna Whaiora Camp and Kahui Board.

  • Board member of Uruuruwhenua Health new Maori Health Provider for Central Otago.


Alistair Campbell

Alistair brings high country management expertise to the trust. He is the managing director of Earnscleugh Station Ltd whose land adjoins the Mokomoko Dryland Sanctuary. Alistair is chairman of the Ultra Fine Merino Company which is involved in both genetics and wool export. He also chairs the Central Otago Merino Breeders Association along with chairing the S3 Project researching worm resistance.

He is chairman of the Central Otago Stud Merino Breeders and is currently councillor and past chair of the New Zealand Stud Merino Breeders. Alistair has been a director of the Port Nicholson Wool Spinners, the Otago Wool Processors, Silverstream knitwear and Otago Garment Knitters. He has held office as vice Chairman of the Alexandra Rabbit Board and was a Government Appointed Rabbit Advisory Committee member. He was involved in a Footrot DNA research project and has been a director of the last Chance Irrigation Company.

Selwyn Tomkins

I am 80 years old and I was a foundation Trustee from 2005 - 2008 and again from 2011 until the present. The Mokomoko Dryland Sanctuary is much more than a safe haven to re-establish Otago and grand skinks and other species. It is more than somewhere to observe scientific curiosities and to play a part in saving these beautiful animals from extinction. It is a place to reflect on values and offering hope in an ecologically fragile world. To keep such things as the beauty and diversity of life on earth at the forefront of our community life I believe requires a sense of the sacred. Just relying on the cold rationality of science will not be sufficient. 


Building a sense of the sacred I think, requires us to commit ourselves to a particular way of thinking about the wider world. It is working towards a fully humane world within the ecological restraints of our earthly home, while standing in piety and awe before the profound mysteries of existence. 


Garry Nixon

Garry grew up in Southland but spent most of his holidays in Central Otago as a child and has lived here most of his working life. He is passionate about the dramatic open landscapes of Central Otago and appreciates the unique plants and animals of the dryland environment. Garry backcountry skis, tramps and mountain bikes. He has been a medical officer at Dunstan for 14 years as well as part time GP in Alexandra. He worked as Senior Medical Officer at Dunstan for several years but now works part time as a Senior Lecturer in Rural Health with the University of Otago as well as working nationally to try and solve some of the workforce and professional issues facing rural hospital doctors. Garry is the Chairperson of the NZ Rural Hospital Doctors Vocational Working Party. Garry also chairs the Backcountry Skiiers Alliance and is currently a member of the Otago Conservation Board.


Rob Wardle

Rob lives on 10 hectares at Galloway and works for the Department of Conservation in Alexandra on High Country Tenure Review. Previous employers include Knight Frank(NZ Ltd)/Landcorp working in high country tenure review and vegetation monitoring, Landcare Research with the semi- arid lands programme, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries as a fisheries observer and the New Zealand Forest Service assisting with ecological surveys and research projects.

Rob’s higher education comprises BSc and BA Honours degrees in Geography from the University of Canterbury and a Post Graduate Diploma in Agricultural Science from Lincoln University.

Professional skills include assessment of conservation values, consultation with high country stakeholders including farmers, NGO’s and Iwi and navigating the legal, technical and social labyrinth of high country tenure review.

Outside of work, Rob along with his wife Kate, has established a walnut orchard which after 10 years is now producing a commercial crop. When not at work or in the orchard, Rob spends as much time as possible in the mountains and hills, tramping, skiing, mountain biking climbing and camping with family and friends.

Tim Whittaker

Tim is employed by the Department of Conservation as a Conservation Officer, High Country Tenure Review. Tim is a senior member of the Property Institute of New Zealand and is a registered valuer.

Tim commenced work with the Department for Lands & Survey in 1982, which in part became Landcorp in 1987 and then Knight Frank in 1991. As well as five years practical farming experience, his background is in rural valuation, farm supervision, high country tenure review and a multitude of property related matters. He has particular experience in Crown lease and licence administration and rental setting.

Tim has worked in many parts of New Zealand with the last twenty plus in Alexandra specialising in high country tenure review, an often demanding but rewarding occupation. The last six years he has been with DOC where he has developed an interest in the local flora and fauna.

Married with two teenage boys he is actively involved in outdoor pursuits including hunting, tramping and fishing. Tim also runs a small native plant nursery for the restoration of parts of his lifestyle block back to something resembling its pre-human state. As Tim puts it – “it’s a bit like having two jobs really”.

Read more about Tim here...

Carey Knox

Carey Knox is based in Dunedin and works for Wildlands Consultants. He is recognised as one of the leading lizard experts in the country, and carries out lizard conservation work across much of the lower South Island. Read more about Carey here...

James Reardon

James Reardon is a herpetologist who currently works as a science advisor to the Department of Conservation. His career has woven together his passions for conservation, film-making and photography. He lives in Te Anau with his partner and young family. Read more about James here...

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Some of the Trust members, DOC and volunteers after the skink release into the small fence Dec 2011.

Credit: COET    

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