Maggie Lawton’s plans continue in her memory

Ella Lawton and her late mother, Maggie. Photo: Supplied.

From Wanaka Sun (front page) 6 - 12 Apr 2017

Alpine Lakes Research and Education Centre plans progress 

Work on Councillor Maggie Lawton’s plans for an Alpine Lakes Research and Education Centre (ALREC) in Wanaka is continuing to progress in her memory.

The late Otago Regional Council councillor revealed plans for the development of the centre in September 2016, which aims to support the management and safeguarding of the South Island’s alpine lakes and their watersheds as well as providing an education and outreach facility for the community and school groups.

Councillor Maggie Lawton’s plans came from the fact that the Southern Great Lakes are currently virtually unstudied and their management needs poorly understood, with the nearest research accommodation facilities more than three hours away, limiting research potential.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the newly formed Lake Wanaka Trust, Otago Fish and Game, and the University of Otago, who will use the facility among other researchers.

Councillor Lawton’s daughter, current Queenstown Lakes District Councillor (QLDC) and member of the ALREC steering group Ella Lawton said that the centre was really championed by her mother and was an amazing project to be involved in.

“It all comes down to having the right people around the table and we’re actively doing that now. The next step is to draw up a really solid business plan to take to funders and have serious conversations about what it is and what we want to do,” Ella said.

“We don’t just want to build a building that will remain empty. We want it to be used to achieve our goals.” Niall Watson, chief executive of Otago Fish and Game, who has provided an area of its hatchery reserve fronting on to Stone Street to the south of Bullock Creek for the project, said that Otago Fish and Game’s Council saw merit in the research centre proposal.

“We felt it was compatible with one of our objectives for the site - to protect the springs that form the source of Bullock Creek and the creek’s riparian margins,” Niall said.

“We see this as a really tangible contribution to the project and we want to support the project in any way we can. Increased freshwater research effort in the Central/Lakes area is essential if we are to understand some of the lake and river management issues we face.”

Ella said that providing scientists with a place to carry out research will ensure the focus and continuity needed in understanding the key issues affecting our lakes including lagarosiphon, didymo and lake snow (also know as lake snot).

“ALREC is very much looking at the big picture. We need good science that looks at all of the possible impacts and outcomes. We need to look at everything that happens in our waterways from right up to the high alpine and down to lake levels.  The lake snow issue is obviously something that is very important right now and the regional council, QLDC and all the organisations involved need to do as much as they can.”

Alongside Ella, the ALREC steering group includes QLDC Deputy Mayor Calum MacLeod, Department of Conservation’s Ruth Harrison, Guardians of Lake Wanaka’s Don Robertson and others representing the local community.

The newly formed Lake Wanaka Trust, established by the Guardians of Lake Wanaka in response to concern over the water quality and health of Lake Wanaka, will help to fund ALREC, with chairman Russell McGeorge saying that the Trust is keen to talk to community groups and individuals wishing to become members.

The Trust offers individual, household, organisational and sponsor membership as part of its fundraising, assisted by local and national grants, to raise the centre’s preliminary cost estimate of $2 million.

Russell said that the Wanaka Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand had provided the Trust, which relies on the work of volunteers, with seed funding to assist with setup and administrative costs.

Anyone wishing to become a member can contact Russell on 03 443 9176.

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