Michael Bourke

Michael Bourke

Citation Speech for Michael Bourke

Michael Bourke, or Mike or Bourkey to those closest to him, is a shy man who downplays his significance to the community of Rangiwahia and the northern Manawatū. But his efforts in environmentalism and conservation are widely appreciated by those in his community, even if he himself describes it as “a bit of mucking around”.

Michael is a third generation farmer. His grandparents bought the property that he resides on and cut it out of bush and he’s spent his entire life there, running sheep and beef, and for a while deer. But while farming is his bread and butter, Michael has a had deep appreciation for natural environment around him since he was a child and has embarked on beautification and conservation projects for as long as he can remembers. He half jokingly says it’s also partly a bit of guild after becoming an “environmental vandal” after some of his deer escaped into the bush many years ago.

The one word that keeps popping up in the nomination form and the citations that were submitted about Michael is passion. And it’s a word that can often be overused but when you look at the body of work that Michael has achieved in his 67 years on this earth, there’s no other way to describe him that’s more appropriate.

As mentioned, Michael is shy and a little bit hesitant to talk about himself at first, but as soon as the conversation turns to his work with birds and in particular waterfowl, he comes to life. He’s particularly proud of his work breeding white swan, “the Queen’s Bird” in New Zealand, which he has done since 1973 when he gained his first pair.

He’s been breeding all sorts of birds ever since then but for waterfowl to flourish, they require wetlands. Michael has created three major wetlands on or near his property, as well as offered guidance and assistance to neighbouring properties that have followed in his footsteps. The most significant of these wetlands is the beautiful Mangahuia, which Mike constructed in 1997. These wetlands have appeared in tourism material promoting not only Rangiwahia, but the whole of the Manawatū to international and domestic tourist alike.

This has required significant financial contributions from Michael, either in the way of paying for work to be done or by sacrificing his own time, labour and land for these wetlands to flourish. Not only has Mangahuia been an ecological success, it is one of Rangiwahia's most popular tourist attractions. He has been instrumental in ensuring predator control is sufficient enough to see bird populations in Rangiwahia. His efforts have seen quail have re-established themselves in the area, which you can spot regularly on Michael’s farm.

He introduced trout to the wetlands so that people visiting could learn to fish and he has been known to come down and teach children how to fish and hunt ethically so that the natural environment is not only maintained, but improved.

Birds are his only focus though. He has contributed to the planting an estimated 10,000 trees for what he calls “farm beautification” and fenced off waterways to ensure that animals don’t stray into them, keeping them clean.

Professor Gordon S Maxwell, a professional ecologist for 50 years has some particularly high praise for Mike’s wetlands and his work in general.

“The man has used his own drive and skills to restore and improve habitats for native avifauna... Mike Bourke gave me, as a scientific ecologist, an excellent yet rather rare case study of the acid test of ecology in action: knowing enough and doing enough to restore and even improve on an existing habitat.”

That’s not bad praise at all for someone who claims that he’s just doing “a bit of mucking around”

Mike’s work is internationally recognised and this year just been, he received the Queen’s Service Medal for his services to conservation in New Zealand. Whilst a Community Honour may not hold the same prestige that an award from the Queen does, we hope that it’s a small and welcome recognition from his community of all that he has achieved and the appreciation that they have for his work.