SERN Bringing Back the Birds Conference on Stewart Island
Despite very rough ferry crossings, from Bluff to Oban and return, over 50 enthusiastic attendees enjoyed a stimulating and enlightening weekend, hearing about conservation projects on Stewart Island and from other parts of New Zealand, where the main focus is to return our native bird species to greater numbers. Just walking to the backpackers on that first night with the sound of kaka screeching and later moorpork and weka calling highlighted the special character of an area free of stoats and other mustelids.
The field trip to Ulva Island where pests are totally controlled showed the opportunity that arises to bring back birds like the robin, rifleman and saddleback. The increase in quantity and diversity of forest floor vegetation was significant following the eradication of rats.
With SIRCET (Stewart Island/Rakiura Community Environment Trust), intensive trapping of rats and possums on the Ackers Peninsula has lead to increased success of titi and little blue penguin breeding. Check out the ongoing work at www.sircet.org.nz
A visit to the Dancing Star Foundation ‘predator exclusion’ fence, across the peninsula east of the beginning of the Rakiura Track, showed the commitment by this group to creating a pest free area to enable the native birds to thrive.
Similarly we heard about the Orokonui Sanctuary, another ‘predator exclusion’ fenced area, which can be found near Waitati, just north of Dunedin. The group there has also set up an information centre and cafe, which is helping to bring in the wider public - well worth a visit. www.orokonui.org.nz
From the far north, the Whangarei Heads Forum is working to enhance kiwi populations in the area. With a number of Landcare Groups undertaking trapping and the erection of a ‘predator exclusion’ fenced kiwi nursery, the numbers of kiwi are on the increase and can be found across farms or seen even along the sides of the roads. In fact kiwi road signs are not joking - due care has to be taken when driving at night. www.savethekiwi.org.nz/kiwi-saving-kiwi/whangarei-heads.html
In the Firth of Thames, thousands of godwit return each year and there a restoration project is focussing on the catchments that feed the Thames estuary with increasing sediment load being a concern. The western edge is lined with a kilometre wide strip of mangrove swamp, which provides habitat for a wide variety of birds. The Muddy Feet project has been through the planning stage and is now looking at implementing on the ground action with plantings and fencing to reduce the movement of soil off farms and into the waterways. Ecotourism is another challenge facing this area, with sometimes up to 80 campervans parked along the shell banks that birds would otherwise roost on. Looking at education to promote wise use of the area is high on the agenda. www.arc.govt.nz/environment/coastal-and-marine/hauraki-gulf-forum/muddy-feet-project.cfm
In Canterbury, two projects are ongoing. The one is the reintroduction of tui on to Banks Peninsula. With the loss of forest remnants across the Canterbury Plains the return of the iconic tui from the forest of the Canterbury foothills to the Peninsula where predators had wiped it out, was not going to happen. So the helping hand of the Banks Peninsula Trust has translocated a number of tui to Hinewai, the regenerating forest under the guardianship of Hugh Wilson and his able team. These birds have bred this past season and more have been introduced to the area this season. www.bpct.org.nz
Further north on the steep slopes of the Kaikoura Mountains is the Hutton’s Shearwater. Reduced from 8 colonies about 10 years ago, there are only two remaining. The fear that predators or earth movements could decimate these final two colonies has led to the creation of nestboxes around the Kaikoura headland, with the translocation of young into these with the hope that they may return as adult birds in 6 or 7 years time and set up a breeding colony there, in a predator free zone. www.huttonsshearwater.org.nz
Closer to home, Viv Shaw of the Pomona Island project, talked about the great community buy in they had in the Te Anau/Manapouri area to restore this large island in Manapouri. With the removal of 5 pest species since 2005, they had been able to start reintroducing birds, including robin which were breeding well. Recent minor reinvasion by mice meant they had to be vigilant in maintaining traps, however the bird life was much increased due to their efforts. www.pomona-island.org.nz
Ros Cole, Biodiversity Manager, DOC, outlined the requirements for community groups considering translocation of species. The level of predators and habitat suitability were two of the main issues when considering bird reintroductions.
The Saturday night speaker, Brent Beavan from DOC, outlined his observations from a study of community conservation groups throughout NZ and what made them successful. Good communication between community groups and agency staff was an essential part, and developing a relationship with individuals in organisations. Recognition of the skills and value volunteers brought to conservation projects was important.
Colin Meurk, NZBRN (Biodiversity Recording Network) outlined the website where anyone can record their observations of birds, lizards, plants, fish, etc, to build up a picture of NZ’s natural history. For restoration groups this site could be useful as a data base to build up a picture of their project over time - for example bird and pest animal numbers and species. Check it out at www.nzbrn.org.nz.
Our thanks go to the sponsors of the event – Community Trust of Southland, Environment Southland, DOC, Landcare Trust/Biodiversity Southland,Invercargill City Council, Southland District Council and Forest & Bird Southland.
With over 30 volunteers from 15 Southland restoration groups present, there was a sense of renewed energy after a weekend of stimulating discussion and networking with peers. Thanks to Stewart Island and its residents for providing an inspiring setting, warm hospitality and sumptuous catering for the conference, and to all the attendees for their enthusiasm and appreciation for the networking opportunity.