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The call of the wild

Stopping the downward slide of New Zealand’s unique biodiversity is a good goal to have and one that takes collaborative action.


Image - Coromandel Area School Enviroschools programme

Coromandel Area School students regularly go bush to help slay “kiwi slayers”.

As part of their Enviroschools programme, the year 5-6 class builds traps for the Moehau Environmental Group’s Coromandel Kiwi Project.

So far, students have built, decorated and helped carry into the bush more than 200 traps, with the end goal being to hear the call of kiwi once more from their backyards in one of New Zealand’s best-loved holiday destinations.

And it’s not just about the labour, then hiking for hours on end, getting tired, wet and muddy. The kids, aged 9 to 11, also learn about biodiversity on the peninsula, and the importance of ongoing and proactive participation in order to rid the forest of what they call kiwi slayers – the rats, stoats and weasels.

The Coromandel students’ work is an example of the collaborative actions that are vital if New Zealand is to keep its unique indigenous biodiversity. Our biodiversity is under threat, and we are losing ground in many cases.

Waikato Regional Council senior biodiversity officer Andrea Julian, who supports council’s promotion of biodiversity outcomes, says if New Zealanders sit on their hands and do nothing then things will continue to get worse.

“Biodiversity decline used to be because of land clearance and changes in land use,” says Andrea. “Now it’s all downhill because of the pest plants and animals. Halting the decline is a good goal to have for everyone. Everyone needs to take responsibility for their own property. It’s just like gardening or mowing the lawns, you need to maintain these things forever. You can’t just do it once. And you don’t have to be building predator proof fences to do a good job.”

Images - Port Waikato beachcare

For the council’s part, it works alongside communities, iwi, district councils and schools. Partnerships include with Enviroschools, empowering students to care for their environment, and Beachcare groups which work to restore and protect coastlines in our region. The council also works with landowners in priority areas on animal and pest plant control, or where the work is too big for them to tackle by themselves.

“Trying to get biodiversity outcomes is a mandate of the council under the Resource Management Act, but it’s not something we can accomplish alone,” says Andrea. “Our biodiversity responsibility is for private land, which requires the co-operation of landowners.”

She says the council currently supports hundreds of “amazing” voluntary groups that are doing good work to protect native plants and animals in wetlands, forests, dunes, lakes and riversides in the region.

The support ranges from advice to helping with funding for project coordination, traps or plantings.

“There is a fund there for people who are starting up and don’t know what they are doing,” says Andrea. “It’s just for ordinary people who maybe want to get some traps.”

The biggest fund is the Natural Heritage Fund. It has been used to help buy special areas of land to put into reserve, such as a wetland habitat at the Miranda Shorebird Centre, and it also gives Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust $300,000 a year towards maintaining the mountain’s predator proof fence.

Large grants of over $300,000 have been given to Karioi Maunga ki te Moana in Raglan and MEG in the Coromandel for intensive predator control work.

Images - Coopers (Maungatautari) and predator control group (Karioi)

The council also hires contractors to carry out pest plant and animal control work in target priority sites for “the public good”. This work is paid for by an annual biosecurity rate, set on capital value.

One “winning project” includes wilding pine and legume removal in Central Plateau. Without this work, the Desert Road landscape would resemble a production pine forest, including on mountains Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe.

“Because of limited resources, we target priority sites, whether they have severely reduced in their extent or are really good examples of their type,” says Andrea.

Geothermal areas get a lot of attention. “We have 80 per cent of the geothermal ecosystems left in the country, so we have a national obligation to protect them.”

Andrea says it will take a “magnitude increase” in funding, community projects and tools to reach aspirational goals regarding biodiversity in the Waikato region and nationwide, and there are even greater challenges ahead.

Climate change will contribute to habitat change and loss, she says.

“The physical parameters of your ecosystems will change, weed species will jump borders. We expect freshwater channels to be threatened with salt water inundation. There will be significant areas of the region where things are going to change.”