NEXT Foundation invests in Taranaki conservation project

NEXT Foundation invests in Taranaki conservation project

It's not as big as Mark Zuckerberg's multi-billion-dollar pledge to charity last week, but it no doubt means a lot more to Kiwis.

Local philanthropic organisation the NEXT Foundation has announced it will invest up to $15 million in the restoration of Taranaki's native ecology.

Egmont National Park looks tranquil from up high, but at forest level a battle's raging between indigenous and invasive species.

Now $24 million is to be spent over 10 years killing pests and re-introducing native birds and plants.

"The hope is that the Mounga project will mean that Mt Taranaki itself will be predator-free and also the areas around, so that you have a kind of a halo effect," says Conservation Minister Maggie Barry.

Project Taranaki Mounga is a collaboration between the Department of Conservation (DoC), iwi, local councils and the NEXT Foundation, a $100 million philanthropic fund set up by entrepreneurs Annette and Neal Plowman. The foundation has already given millions to other conservation projects.

The Foundation's chairman is former Microsoft CFO Chris Liddell.

"We have two big planks – education and environment," Mr Liddell says. "Clearly this fits in the environment area, and again we're looking for in the environment, big sustainable projects [and] big transformational projects, which have sustainability thereafterwards"

He says the foundation will give between $5 million and $15 million to the project, depending on how much other funding it can entice.

"So the more people we can bring into a project like this, the more hopefully we can have a second project and a third one and a fourth one," Mr Liddell says.

Green MP Eugenie Sage welcomes the donation, but says DoC should be adequately resourced to eradicate pests itself.

"Corporate funding should be the icing on the cake," she says. "It shouldn't be funding core work."

But with Ms Barry describing the Taranaki project as a "blueprint for the future", the Greens may have to get used to private cash propping up DoC's good work.

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