War on predators: capture collective wisdom, Trust says Plant pests must also be a focus
Hawke’s Bay-based conservation group Forest Lifeforce Restoration (FLR) Trust has welcomed the Predator-Free by 2050 initiative announced by the government earlier this week. It says the target is achievable but that success will rely on collaboration and information-sharing on a scale not yet seen in New Zealand conservation circles and that few have dared dream was possible.
“Conservation in New Zealand can no longer be purely the preserve of government agencies,” said Trust Chairman Simon Hall. “The job’s too big, the battle’s too fierce. Landowners and the private sector all have a role to play.
“It’s crucial for the success of this initiative, though, that Predator Free New Zealand Limited is able to harness not just the collective will, but also the expertise developed from decades of trial and error that exists in pockets right across the country.”
The Trust was established a decade ago by Mr Hall, who is also Chairman of Auckland-based Tasti Foods, to provide direction and funding for the restoration of threatened species of fauna and flora in New Zealand’s wild places. Since then it has developed a reputation as one of the most prolific and successful kiwi conservation initiatives in the country.
It also runs the largest privately-funded native forest regeneration initiative of its kind yet seen in New Zealand. This involves converting a 4,000 hectare logging concession in inland Hawke’s Bay, the Maungataniwha Pine Forest, back into native forest.
The FLR Trust is establishing a second sanctuary on its property in the Maungataniwha Native Forest. This will be run along the same lines as the Trust’s original 600 hectare sanctuary centred on Waiau Camp, with a similar concentration of traps and bait stations targeting predators such as rats, stoats and possums which cause havoc with native species of flora and fauna. Bird counts and trapping figures will be used to provide a rough indication of the programme’s success.
The $60,000 project has received a $25,000 grant from the Department of Conservation and aims to eliminate within three years most predators of native species across a 400 hectare swathe of bushland bordering the Te Hoe River in inland Hawke’s Bay.
The FLR Trust is engaged in eight primary conservation projects, each of which complements the others. The reduction and elimination of predator populations is a vital part of the overall drive to provide a safe place for a variety of native plant and bird species to re-establish viable or healthy populations.
In addition to kiwi, the birds the Trust aims to protect include the threatened whio (Blue Duck), kaka, Yellow-Crowned Kakariki, Long-Tailed and Shining Cuckoos, and kereru. Discussions are currently underway about adding kokako to that group.
Plants on their ‘must save’ list include the flamboyant kakabeak (Clianthus maximus) and Turner's kohuhu (Pittosporum turneri), both of which are classified as ‘Nationally Critical’ – the Department of Conservation’s highest threatened plant ranking. The list also features several species of rare mistletoe and the Dactylanthus (Dactylanthus taylorii), New Zealand’s only indigenous fully parasitic flowering plant and known in te reo as pua o te Reinga, 'flower of the underworld'.
For all this to happen it’s essential that predator populations are at least reduced, or preferably eliminated. The Trust has been heavily involved in developing effective predator trapping and elimination techniques.
“This is the sort of collaboration with business and philanthropy that New Zealand will need if we are to achieve the goal of being predator-free by 2050,” said Department of Conservation director-general Lou Sanson.
“The expertise that sits within organisations like this across the country is inspiring - New Zealand can do this if we all work together.”
Mr Hall urged the experts behind Predator Free New Zealand to address the issues caused by plant pests as well as animals.
“Exotic plants are as much a pest as animals,” he said. “Most of our native forests have had the soul ripped out of them through years of mismanagement and commercial exploitation, now the indigenous plants that remain have to compete with these hardy interlopers for space, light and nourishment. It’s vital that we combat these plant pests with the same ruthlessness as we do the animals.”
Mr Hall said the Trust supported the use of 1080.
“When we first established the Trust I was very sceptical about the desirability of using 1080,” he said. “We allowed its use in a trial capacity and the difference it made to the survival rates of our young kiwi and whio populations was immense and relatively immediate. Now we allow widespread use of 1080 on our properties and we’re grateful for the boost it gives to our efforts.”