Remembering John Sawyer

John Sawyer

This week we are deeply saddened to lose John Sawyer, a founding member of NZPCN and a plant conservation legend.

John died  of a heart attack very unexpectedly on 6 November.  We are all reeling with shock.  Bec Stanley prepared the following after talking with his partner Karlene on Sunday.

"They were on the island of Mull, a place he loved, and he died very unexpectedly and did not suffer.  John had had a wonderful day botanising and had been with a lichen expert who confirmed a new species for the island and John was pretty happy about it. He'd also learned the hazelwood forest in the gully below the house was more ancient than he thought and so more precious to him. That afternoon he had also started fencing it off. He passed away over night, Saturday afternoon our time, the day before he was to be a speaker at a biodiversity day on Mull he had organized.  Apparently dinner that night came from the gourmet tramping book.  Karlene said he had written a wonderful speech - I can only imagine it touched on his own personal attachment to the island and it's immense significance to him".

Our hearts are with John's family, especially his partner Karlene who is 22 weeks pregnant with their child.

John is a huge figure in New Zealand Plant Conservation and Ecological circles.  Many of you will either have worked with John or know of the work that he did. He was a profound motivator and visionary with powerful ideas, a very hard worker and always had conservation and the environment on his mind. He started in the Department of Conservation as a volunteer in 1993 and left DOC in 2011 to go to work for Auckland Council.  John  put plant conservation on the map in New Zealand and did some incredible work - especially by motivating people and finding money and convincing people to save our flora. John founded the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network ( and was a staunch advocate for our native plants - at some cost to himself.

Even though John moved back to UK last year and was the CEO of the UK National Biodiversity Network Trust, he was still very much interested and actively contributing to our Network in New Zealand, and to say that he will be greatly missed by us all would be an understatement.  His faith and encouragement in other people's capacity to implement his ideas was inspirational.  The NBN website profile for John, in his own words, is as

"I was born in Yorkshire and studied environmental sciences at the University of Southampton in the early 1990s. Since then I have worked in terrestrial biodiversity conservation around the world including the highlands of Guatemala, the Juan Fernandez Islands (off the coast of Chile) and the Chatham Island archipelago (680km east of New Zealand). I have worked as a technical advisor, team leader and manager at the Department of Conservation (NZ), and most recently was environmental strategy and policy advisor for Auckland (NZ's largest city).

I have also worked for charitable NGOs including a time as President of the NZ Ecological Society (NZ's largest ecological science organisation) and co-founder of both the NZ Plant Conservation Network (NZ's largest NGO devoted to the protection of the indigenous flora) and Nature Space (a national partnership to support the work of those involved in ecological restoration).

I also have an interest in the outdoors and published a hiking cookbook in
2007 entitled 'Gourmet Tramping in New Zealand'. My spiritual home (known in Maori as 'turangawaewae') is the Isle of Mull in the inner hebrides of Scotland."

There is a plan regarding stories for John's funeral service in the UK and potentially a memorial service in New Zealand.

The plan is to provide a coordinated bunch of stories to Karlene from New Zealand.  We think that this would be helpful for Karlene who has expressed that she and John's family want John's NZ life and conservation work to be honoured alongside his more recent achievements in the UK.

A few people will coordinate stories from their respective networks and then Bec Stanley will send them over to Karlene.

  • Nick Singers (past DOC botanists & contractors community that know
  • John)
  • Sarah Beadel (NZPCN)
  • Bruce Burns (NZ Ecological Society)
  • Bec Stanley (Auckland Council)
  • Ben Reddiex (DOC Wellington stories and current DOC botanists).

Please send your stories (these will be for the family, and in particular enable John's child to know how John impacted on other people's lives and his contributions to conservation) to Sarah no later than close of play Friday.

Other information:

  • We don't know the date for his funeral (hence the Friday due date for stories to be on the safe side).
  • We are starting to plan for a memorial service in Wellington as a number of people have suggested this - more information will follow on this early next week.
  • In honour of John's memory the Network committee would like to rename the Plant Conservation Endowment Fund (which John initiated at the 2013 conference), the John Sawyer Plant Conservation Fund in his memory.