Devon McLean honoured with Queen's Service Medal

 ​A project at Stoke Primary School sparked a lifelong interest in conservation for Project Crimson Chairman, Devon McLean.

That passion has seen him recognised with the Queen's Service Medal for services to conservation.

McLean remembers a Stoke school project involving collecting plants for a herbarium and creating a leaf-shaped book to document them. It fed a curiosity that has fuelled a long and successful career helping protect some of the country's iconic plants and trees.

McLean was a founding member of Project Crimson, the successful initiative which began in 1990 in an effort to restore New Zealand's native rata and pohutukawa.

Nelson-born McLean was working for New Zealand Forest Products (now Carter Holt Harvey) in 1990 when it was looking for a way to mark the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

A Forest Research Institute survey from 1989 concluded that more than 90 per cent of coastal pohutukawa growth had been eliminated and many of the remaining trees were damaged.

The community-based Project Crimson was a response to the dwindling numbers of pohutukawa due to damage by possums and coastal development in the North Island. The project initially focused on protecting existing trees and restoring cover where it had been lost.

McLean said they started out by getting communities involved, educating them on how to plant, care for and protect the trees.

Project Crimson turns 25 this year and McLean said in that time, more than 300,000 rata and pohutukawa have been planted around the country.

"The key thing really was showing the community that they could make a difference. Give them the tools, the environment and the information to go out and do it.

"We've still got communities from the very earliest days in places like the East Coast where they still take some trees each year and they go out and add to their projects."

As the project has matured, McLean feels he has achieved what the set out to do. He said the attitude toward planting natives has changed over the years, part of which is due to Project Crimson and the focus was now on education.

The project's success meant it was seen as an example of what could be done for conservation in other places and the model has been used for other projects.

The Living Legends conservation project during the 2011 Rugby World Cup and the Treemendous Schools project are further examples of how the methodology used by McLean can be applied in other areas. He is passionate about creating models that others can adopt.

He is confident that working with DOC has been central to creating change.

"The whole partnership approach working with the Department to make a big difference is really important."

McLean is now involved with the Rotoroa Island Trust in creating a sanctuary for endangered wildlife and Project Janszoon, a private initiative in partnership with the Department of Conservation to restore the ecology in the Abel Tasman National Park.

McLean is proud that Project Crimson has empowered individuals to go out and do something positive for the environment. "It is the power of showing people that they can make a difference," he said.​