Peter Willsman

Protecting the environment and his hearing

Peter Willsman’s varied life has taken him onto the farm, into church ministry, and across mountains to eradicate wilding pines. He is well-known in the greater Otago community, having served as the Presbyterian minister in Mosgiel for 24 years before retiring to Queenstown 18 years ago and helping to set up a community-based wilding pine eradication group.

As a young man Peter worked up to 12 hours a day on a farm in South­­land. “My hearing loss,” he says, “is due to an industrial accident — driving heavy machinery with no ear protection. In those days, no one knew about the impact of noise.”

It was not until his 60s and by then in the ministry that Peter realised his hearing needed help. “I particularly struggled to hear clearly during counselling sessions, and in meetings I often failed to hear the points being made. I realised that some conversations weren’t easy to hear, hence the start of my journey into old style hearing aids. They were helpful, but no comparison to today’s digital devices.”

Peter’s years tramping in the alpine backcountry made him aware of the threat of wild­ing pines and 10 years ago he helped establish the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group, serving as founding chairman and then co-chair until three years ago.

“It’s all about preserving the environment,” he says. “I’ve invested a lot of time as a volunteer over the 10 years. Today I spend less time cutting pines, but more time visiting land and station owners, and fundraising.”

The group aims to eradicate seeding conifers so their seeds are not windblown for kilometres. As well as felling and poisoning trees this also means increasing public awareness and getting land owners onboard with eradication. Wilding pine spread rapidly and can outgrow native trees and subalpine flora and fauna.

Peter says he needs hearing aids that stay safe when he is out and about: he walks and works in the hills, cycles regularly and skis. “I’ve lost a couple of aids over the years,” he says. “I’ve difficult ears to get hearing aids fitted, but Simon Melville has worked hard to find ones that suit me. We spent three months trying different ear moulds and aids, and I’m impressed with his technical knowledge and patience.”

In 2016, Peter was awarded a QSM for services to conservation and the community, and this year published his memoir, Choices and Challenges.