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Conservation work continues despite ongoing Gabrielle disruption

Infrastructure repair work from Storm Gabrielle in February has been a massive drain on the Trust’s people, resources and finance – and looks set to remain so for many months yet. We will burn through hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time we have recovered to the extent we can.

Recovery costs of this magnitude are bound to have an impact on any small conservation organisation’s programme of work. And that’s to say nothing of the additional time it takes to do things.

Access infrastructure on our properties in central Hawke’s Bay was smashed by the storm and hundreds of kilometres of roads were made utterly impassable. Recently our forest manager Pete Shaw and his partner Jules spent three hours in the dark and cold of the small hours, walking out to collect a single kiwi egg for incubation and hatching. Before the storm that particular nest was just a four-minute walk from the nearest vehicle access point.

Multiply this additional time and effort across much of what our team and their network of volunteers do on a daily basis, like accessing pest trapping lines, and you’ll get some idea of the impact on their work.

It’s therefore imperative that we get our roads, trails and tracks back up to scratch. At our Maungataniwha property there has been a flurry of activity with staff and volunteers working hard to access the transmitterised kiwi at the heart of our sector-leading Maungataniwha Kiwi Project, both to change batteries on the transmitters (so we can keep tabs on the little guys) and to collect eggs for incubation and créching as part of the national kiwi conservation initiative, Operation Nest Egg.

As at the start of December 2023 we are about half-way there, indicating that it’ll take about 18 months from the date of the storm to get back up and running fully.

We were cut off from the property completely immediately after the storm. It wasn’t until April that we got vehicle access in. Even then it was limited, on back-roads via either Lake Waikaremoana or Gisborne, adding an extra seven hours of travel from Hawke’s Bay and turning what had been an easy two-hour drive on the main Napier-Wairoa road and our usual access road into a nine-hour slog – much of it in only second gear. These access challenges lasted for about six months.

Most hard-hit by Gabrielle’s deluge was the former pine forest that we are restoring to native bush. Entire lengths of road and huge two-metre double-culverts have been blown out by slash. Incidentally, it was interesting to note that the areas now well under native bush coped significantly better with Gabrielle’s wrath than those that are not.

To date most of the work at Maungataniwha has been on restoring the main access roads – clearing trees and vegetation, bypassing slips and creating temporary passage where massive culverts have been swept away down creek-beds, squashed like empty cans of peaches.

We now have access to most of the block, but via side-by-side all-terrain vehicle only. Next on the agenda will be our side roads – the ones we use to access pest-control and trapping operations, and our nesting kiwi.

There are blown-out culverts everywhere. With one second-hand culvert costing in the region of $10,000, and concreting, machinery and labour costs on top of that, replacement costs for a single culvert could easily come in at $30,000 each.

Our sincere thanks go to the cast of hundreds who have helped us since the storm, enabling us to get back up and running to at least the current limited extent. Our staff, their families, our volunteers, contractors and contacts from across the conservation and other sectors, and a host of other individuals and organisations – we are deeply indebted to them. Their efforts have allowed us to continue our conservation and species-recovery work in the face of severe and costly disruption.

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