A vision for Foulden Maar

A model of sustainability and environmentally conscious stewardship

The purpose of this document is to create a vision for Foulden Maar and its role as a publicly owned asset within our community. It is based on conversations with geologist Associate Professor Daphne Lee, international expert on the site, who, since the campaign for the protection of Foulden Maar began, has been considering how the site could be managed logistically to fulfil both a research and an educational role. It is also based on discussions in Save Foulden Maar group.

As a result of a concerted fightback by the people of New Zealand and particularly Otago, alongside international and local scientists to save Foulden Maar from destruction by transnational corporation, the site is now undergoing a process whereby it will be placed in public ownership through the Dunedin City Council and the Department of Conservation for protection in perpetuity. We feel it important that while the lengthy process of putting Foulden Maar into public ownership, we begin to develop a vision.

The public and media debate was quite quite rightly focussed on the immediate need to protect Foulden Maar from irreversible destruction. Now is the time to consider the role of the site as a publicly owned asset. Our document is written in the spirit of Foulden Maar becoming a model of sustainability and environmentally conscious stewardship. It is written in the spirit of returning to children and youth and future generations, a site which can help them develop ways of adapting to and understanding climate change. And it is written with practicalities in mind, of how this can realistically be achieved and managed.

Prevalent political and economic thought considers the material resources of the world exist to be exploited to create short term economic growth in both the private and public spheres. It is based on an economic model which in spite of best scientific advice and environmentally sensitive practice, wilfully ignores the longterm and broader economic, environmental and social well-being costs. Such thinking continues to result in the destruction of our environment and the very resources we require in order to ensure our survival and that of future generations on earth. In this context, we have seen in New Zealand as in the rest of the world, children and youth taking to the streets in massive protests to put a stop to such short-term thinking and protect the planet from further destruction.

The only legitimate mandate we have is to protect Foulden Maar for them and future generations.

First and foremost, in an era of escalating climate change, Foulden Maar must be maintained as a workable scientific site for continued climate change and geological research for the common good of all.

Save Foulden Maar’s emphatic position is that Foulden Maar is not to be capitalised on. This includes tourism, of which the environmental impact is becoming increasingly apparent. The Otago Regional Council in its Regional Policy Statement 2020 Survey says, “The environmental costs of our activities are stacking up and may soon reach a tipping point.” Many argue that this has already happened. The ORC further states: “Economic and domestic activities use natural resources, but do not always properly account for the environmental stresses and future effects they cause… tourism which also relies on the environment, can also add to degradation.”

The protection of Foulden Maar was fought for by the people of New Zealand angered at yet more irreversible pillaging of our environment and heritage. We do not want to see it under public ownership, now fall victim to the rampages of tourism.

Our dream is for Foulden Maar to be part of a broad corridor of publicly owned and restored land from mountains to the sea, creating habitat for native flora and fauna, with clean streams, ponds, tarns and lakes, and restored tussock land. It is about creating an environmentally rich and diverse legacy for future generations and contributing what we can now to the body of climate change knowledge.

We put forward two scenarios of how Foulden Maar could be managed under public ownership to allow national and international climate and geological research to continue, and at the same time, give the public the opportunity to learn more about the treasures the site holds.

Option 1

Based on how access to the site has been managed historically

Scientists within Otago University had, over several decades, built good relationships with a succession of privately owned mining corporations. Because Foulden Maar was only ever mined sporadically (due to both financial failure of successive companies and low quality product), scientists had the opportunity to do research work on the site. This included limited excavation as well as the drilling of a 180m core from the centre of the maar, funded by a Marsden Grant. Over decades, with access and health and safety managed by Otago University, thousands of people have visited Foulden Maar in a tightly controlled framework. The goodwill between University and mine owners allowed for countless geology students to visit the site as part of their course work, as well as many other groups lead by Daphne Lee and fellow scientists. These have included tangata whenua and people affiliated to such organisations as New Zealand Forest and Bird, rock and mineral clubs and geology clubs.

The University has three strands to its charter: academic; administration and service within the institution itself; and service to the community at large, which accounts for approximately 30% of its focus.

When Foulden Maar becomes a publicly owned site, the fundamental logistics that have worked successfully for decades, could easily continue, with Otago University managing all access to the site. It would not entail financial transactions and would be considered in the
spirit of the University providing service to the community.

Option 2

Broadening access to Foulden Maar

As Daphne Lee has said, she would like the public to have access to the site, “… to see what the fuss has been about and to learn about fossils in a safe environment.” It is possible that public access to the site could be broadened without compromising scientific research.

Under public ownership, scientists will now be able to explore Foulden Maar unimpeded by conditions laid down by the commercial activities of mine operators. It is more than likely that scientific research will escalate. While no longer a commercial site, it will nevertheless remain a work site with a pit, excavation tailings, dust and on occasion, heavy machinery and equipment.

For these reasons, broadening access to Foulden Maar must be carefully and tightly managed. As Daphne said, “We can’t just have people swanning in for a little look and dig.” The over-riding purpose of broadening access to the site would be to increase awareness of our geology and climate change challenges, with the particular intention of inspiring young people and children to become involved in these areas.

Daphne has long been considering how this could be achieved.

Tours of Foulden Maar

  • Tour groups of a maximum of 20 people at any one time on site accompanied by two tour/educational guides
  • Bookings would be made through the Middlemarch Museum with guidance from Otago Museum 
  • Site open for 2 days a week (or fortnight) for visits from September to May 
  • Printed matter with scientific content
  • Include Foulden Maar as part of the wider Dunedin volcano tour

Tour/educational guides

  • Senior geology students from Otago University
  • Local people from the Strath Taieri whom Daphne has committed to train
  • All tour guides to be paid a minimum of the living wage from ticket sales

The site itself

  • Extensive planting between the Foulden Maar property and the neighbouring farm to ensure their privacy
  • Plant entire area around Foulden Maar with indigenous plants and create habitat for skinks and geckos listed in the Ecological Report
  • Involve Middlemarch school and community groups in planting to give a sense of ownership of the site
  • Several light shelters for groups to have lunch in
  • Composting toilets but not on the Maar itself
  • A modest building for the exclusive use of scientists and researchers, with basic accommodation attached


  • Minimise the number of people and vehicles on or near the site
  • Minibus leaving from the Museum for each tour
  • Minibus and car park on Moonlight Road. Would only require a small area as the number of visitors on site at any one time would be low (10-20)
  • Create a path from Moonlight Road to Foulden Maar for visitor access, landscaped with indigenous plants
  • Carpark on site for scientists with access along the public road (which leads to farm)

A legacy to children, students and young people

Daphne would like to see children, students and young people as priority guests at Foulden Maar. The site itself has been discussed in classrooms throughout New Zealand since the fight to save it began in 2018. This includes Year 13 students from Taieri High School doing analyses on the the pros and cons of mining versus scientific and environmental value, and an eight page article in the School Journal for years 7 and 8, published by the Ministry of Education.

The Correspondence School was also in contact with Save Foulden Maar group for material to include in the science curriculum. We would like the learning in the classroom to be augmented with what is called Education Outside the Classroom (EOTC). New Zealand has guidelines for education outside the classroom that support schools to take advantage of the community and environment beyond the school gates and thereby bring the national curriculum alive.

Education outside the classroom

  • children, students and New Zealand youth under age of 26 are priority guests at Foulden Maar
  • free to New Zealand children, students and youth under age of 26 (as are art galleries in France)
  • school class trips could have a maximum of 30 children on site with parental/ caregiver assistance
  • educational material to accompany children’s tours (which must include a history of the fight to save Foulden Maar)
  • promote intermediate and high school trips which could take in Foulden Maar, Sutton Salt Lake, Rock and Pillar Conservation Area and the region’s renown dark skies, along with history and farm tours
    Use Sutton Camp (Otago Youth Adventure Trust) for accommodation

A new wing to the Middlemarch Museum

Tours on Foulden Maar itself would necessarily be limited due to it being primarily a working scientific research site, and the need for every fossil excavated fossil to be checked over by a geologist in the event that there is a significant find. While there are logistical reasons that numbers of visitors on the site would be low, nevertheless we would like to create a focus for the curious other than Foulden Maar itself.

  • A new wing for the Middlemarch Museum dedicated to the geology of Foulden Maar and the Strath Taieri
  • Waikaia Museum in Southland and Vanished World could serve as models for a new wing, as could the Volcano Museum and Maar Museum in the volcanic Eifel region in Germany
  • A dedicated geological wing could generate further reasons to visit and stay in Middlemarch

Representation from Save Foulden Maar

Save Foulden Maar spearheaded and was crucial in the fight to save Foulden Maar from permanent destruction. The group brought to the attention of the public and government what the intentions of the mining transnational were. We request two seats on any Dunedin City Council group involved in making decisions on the site along with Professor Daphne Lee.