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Hawke’s Bay environmentalists are uniting around the lo y goal of restoring at-risk native species and ecosystems, while planning a massive biodiversity blitz that aims to create the nation’s first predator-free zone.
“It’s crunch time” for improving our environment and its biodiversity, warns Keiko Hashiba, the Regional Council’s Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan co-ordinator. “We are at a crossroads … If we don’t do something right now it will become irreversible.”
She admits it’s been a long and complex task aligning more than 20 regional agencies and organisations behind the newly-launched Biodiversity Action Plan 2017-2020, which embraces the Predator Free 2050 vision.
While there are different ideas about priorities, Japanese-born Hashiba, a forest and terrestrial ecology scientist with responsibility for Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s (HBRC) wetlands monitoring programme, says “all are urgent.
“A healthy ecosystem including native forests and waterways are part of a system that supports human wellbeing – it has been compromised and needs to be restored.”
Her goal is to make a difference on the ground and in the way people think. “Biodiversity is not just about the greenies and little critters in the waterways, it’s fundamental to our wellbeing. The Maori view of the environment really sums it up, if nature is out of balance it will affect all of us.”
Stocktake of needs
Hashiba has developed a comprehensive inventory of the region’s biodiversity projects and helped identify six steps for maximum impact over the next three years. These include ecosystem mapping and ecological prioritisation; a cultural framework and survey of taonga (valued Maori sites); establishing the HB Biodiversity Guardians to oversee progress, and the HB Biodiversity Foundation to raise megabucks for the various projects.
A working group will coordinate policy and best practice; a Biodiversity Forum will engage with the public, and there’s a process to involve private landowners.
Connie Norgate, chairperson of the Biodiversity Guardians, is convinced Hawke’s Bay can achieve predator-free status with restored habitats benefitting all species, something that would have been impossible if everyone continued to work to their own agendas.
Norgate, Napier-based operations manager of the Department of Conservation (DOC), says under the current threat-classification system around 50% of the region’s native species are at risk. The Guardians will appoint a project manager to deliver on the Action Plan. “While we continue to support species in pockets, we need to look to the future and consider what we can do on a landscape scale.” The likely
The Guardians will appoint a project manager to deliver on the Action Plan. “While we continue to support species in pockets, we need to look to the future and consider what we can do on a landscape scale.” The likely
The likely beneficiaries in Hawke’s Bay include whio or blue duck, the kaka (forest parrot), Australasian bittern, black billed gulls, dotterels “and of course the garden variety natives which have already benefited from HBRC’s possum programme – tui, kereru and wax eyes”.
Norgate says freshwater fish including the koaro and long fi nned eels, plants such as kakabeak and Hectors tree daisy and “poweliphanta (giant land snails) which have a clade (group) signifi cant to Hawke’s Bay” are being targeted.
HBRC’s resource management group manager, Iain Maxwell, says a big challenge in turning things around has always been achieving impact and scale.
“One of the frustrations within environmental communities is that stuff takes too long and if we rely on the old ways and techniques we’ll be having the same conversations in another 50 years. We’re trying to reset it.”
Achieving the turning point for habitat restoration while meeting the signifi cant nutrient and sediment challenges for land and water “requires the massive upscaling of planting the right trees in the right places”.
Maxwell says if the biodiversity partners are to succeed “and not keep tinkering around the edges with small scale stuff ” they’ll need to deliver “widespread activities across big areas relatively quickly”.
An important stake in the ground was securing the leadership of noted zoologist and academic Prof Charles Daugherty to chair the Biodiversity Implementation Planning Group, the predecessor to the Guardians.
He’s earned a reputation as a change agent in getting biodiversity beyond business as usual.
Daugherty, a board member of Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP), came to Hawke’s Bay to retire after 34 years as a research ecologist at Victoria University and seven years on the board of Zealandia.
He says Zealandia set the tone for the full Wellington Predator Free Project with abundant birdlife now moving beyond the safety of its mammal-proof fence.
Daugherty says if you get the biodiversity mix right it starts to become self-healing. “The animals largely take care of themselves if you give them the right protection which means getting rid of the predators and creating the right habitat…the planting part.”
The big challenge for Hawke’s Bay, he says, is landscape restoration … “if these projects succeed then the national goals really are attainable”.
Cape to City starter
The darling of the biodiversity dream is the Cape to City project covering 26,000 hectares of farmland between Waimarama and Havelock North, a proven testing ground for broader regional roll out.
It’s modelled on native species and habitat restoration work at Poutiri Ao o Tane, near Lake Tutira; Cape Sanctuary, the country’s largest privately owned and funded wildlife restoration project; and HBRC’s on-farm possum-control programme.
Cape to City, involving HBRC, DOC, Landcare Research, other CRIs, Cape Sanctuary, the Aotearoa Foundation and private businesses, is project- managed by Regional Council land services manager, Campbell Leckie.
While some observers suggest Cape to City was an easy target for HBRC to get profile and publicity, Leckie says it takes up less than 10% of its biodiversity budget. “We didn’t know how to do widescale predator control, so Cape to City was about getting a template to do this, to fund it, drive it and upscale it.”
Leckie’s team is driving the agenda with Cape to City partners learning much from the 15-20 ongoing research projects, including “what’s going to recover and how quickly”.
Significant elements to biodiversity recovery are pest management, people and planting. “If you take all pests out but don’t reconnect the farmland in terms of habitat, riparian strips and plantations, then native species will be constrained by the places they have to live.”
Daugherty, now chairperson of the HB Biodiversity Foundation, says the whole region and country can learn from Cape to City, the fi rst big-scale project of its kind on agricultural and farmland. The Biodiversity Strategy is ambitious but “well within present capabilities” if it achieves the right level of funding. “We’ve got really good control programmes underway, the farming community is engaged now, so that’s a good place to start.” Action Plan co-ordinator,
The Biodiversity Strategy is ambitious but “well within present capabilities” if it achieves the right level of funding. “We’ve got really good control programmes underway, the farming community is engaged now, so that’s a good place to start.” Action Plan co-ordinator,
Action Plan co-ordinator, Kieko Hashiba, says priorities will be defined by what is “the best bang for buck with limited resources” and which “actions bring the best social, community or economic outcomes”.
Scientific exercises are underway to create a framework for the sites, species and habitats that should be subject to biodiversity actions over the next five years. Getting that mix right will be imperative to get buy-in from the wider community, says Hashiba.
Guardians chairperson Connie Norgate says there’s a fine balance between land development, economic development and natural heritage. “You can’t have the best of everything but with a considered effort you can…make it work together.”
She says separate agencies aren’t doing enough on their own so it makes sense having a consolidated effort with “everyone throwing their money into the same pool and seeking more”.
Refining the framework
In May the Transforming Biodiversity in Hawke’s Bay report stated restoration was complex, with some areas needing better integration of policy, statutory frameworks and formal budgeting. It urged HBRC to transform its own natural resource management functions, potentially combining existing policy drivers like freshwater, biodiversity and pest management plans, science and monitoring, biosecurity, land management,
It urged HBRC to transform its own natural resource management functions, potentially combining existing policy drivers like freshwater, biodiversity and pest management plans, science and monitoring, biosecurity, land management, flood protection and drainage programmes. The report envisaged planting the right trees in predator-free areas to create ‘corridors’ of habitat for native species to colonise, delivering “a substantially better economic outcome for areas of our farmland and in particular our hill country”. Reducing erosion and the risk of sediment reaching waterways and lowering nutrient levels would improve water quality, thereby
The report envisaged planting the right trees in predator-free areas to create ‘corridors’ of habitat for native species to colonise, delivering “a substantially better economic outcome for areas of our farmland and in particular our hill country”. Reducing erosion and the risk of sediment reaching waterways and lowering nutrient levels would improve water quality, thereby
Reducing erosion and the risk of sediment reaching waterways and lowering nutrient levels would improve water quality, thereby benefitting birds, invertebrates and lizards.
The report said Council would also need to ‘sell’ the concept to both urban and rural communities as it would take years before there were demonstrable outcomes.
Iain Maxwell agrees the Action Plan will require HBRC to realign its activities, rethink internal communication and how the various parts of his organisation work together. “We haven’t done that particularly well.”
A good example, he says, might be using mapping and other tools to overlay knowledge about water quality issues and soil mapping through SedNet, then introduce aff orestation and riparian management, biosecurity work and habitat prioritisation.
“This should show us where the overlaps are, help coordinate what the various teams are doing and show up any gaps.”
He says that might reveal rare habitats, perhaps a lowland podocarp forest under threat from canopy collapse or grazing that can be fenced off and protected for biodiversity purposes.
Predator hit list
Big on Campbell Leckie’s agenda is ramping up the elimination of pests, in line with Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) Dr Jan Wright’s biosecurity hit list. Dr Wright in her report Taonga of an Island Nation: Saving New Zealand’s Birds, calls for “sustained control of predators over more large areas” so bigger populations of birds can thrive. “Small isolated bird populations can become inbred. We must not let our birds drift to the shallow end of the gene pool.” Part of restoring “abundant, diverse and resilient birdlife” is eliminating
Dr Wright in her report Taonga of an Island Nation: Saving New Zealand’s Birds, calls for “sustained control of predators over more large areas” so bigger populations of birds can thrive. “Small isolated bird populations can become inbred. We must not let our birds drift to the shallow end of the gene pool.” Part of restoring “abundant, diverse and resilient birdlife” is eliminating
Part of restoring “abundant, diverse and resilient birdlife” is eliminating feral cats. “These bird killers now almost certainly number in the millions in the countryside and along forest margins.”
Cape to City is currently trapping six to eight feral cats for every mustelid (stoat or ferret).
Dr Wright made seven recommen- dations to Government including prioritising predator-control research, increased protection of bird habitats and expanding sources of funding.
HBRC’s Possum Control Area Programme began in 2000, covering 700,000 hectares, resulting in a 40% reduction in possums; this year the average trap catch is under 3%, or three possums per night for every 100 traps.
Leckie quotes a 2006 survey of 1,000 properties showing signifi cant improvement of birdlife and native tree growth on farms and a reduction in TB.
Smart trap network
Now, after two years of trials, Leckie says HBRC’s wireless possum traps have proven ideal for “the initial knock down” in wider scale predator-control targeting feral cats, stoats, rats and rabbits.
The traps, when triggered, report to a hub then out to a smartphone or iPad, resulting in a huge saving of time and effort. Traditionally, one person manages 200 traps a day; with wireless one person could manage 1,000 to 1,500. Work on trap densities and catch rates across farm landscapes has shown 80% of pests are caught by 20% of the traps. “You could reduce trap numbers by 50% in most cases and still get the same result; that’s really significant if you’re doing half a million hectares,” says Leckie. The Transforming Biodiversity in Hawke’s Bay report proposes 80% of the cost of the large-scale strategic rollout be redirected from individual landowner initiatives.
Work on trap densities and catch rates across farm landscapes has shown 80% of pests are caught by 20% of the traps. “You could reduce trap numbers by 50% in most cases and still get the same result; that’s really significant if you’re doing half a million hectares,” says Leckie. The Transforming Biodiversity in Hawke’s Bay report proposes 80% of the cost of the large-scale strategic rollout be redirected from individual landowner initiatives.
The Transforming Biodiversity in Hawke’s Bay report proposes 80% of the cost of the large-scale strategic rollout be redirected from individual landowner initiatives.
HBRC will partner with Predator Free New Zealand 2050 for ‘dollar for two dollar’ Government input; farmers will be asked to contribute; and the Biodiversity Foundation will pitch for further philanthropic investment. “It is not realistic for council to fund all of it,” says Leckie.
Early targets include Mahia, where Austrian oil and gas firm OMV has offered $200,000 to HBRC, which council hopes will trigger Predator Free government funding taking the total to $600,000 over four years.
Other predator hot spots with land and water challenges include Whakaki near Wairoa, Tutira’s Poutiri project, Ahuriri Estuary, and Lake Whatuma and Adean’s Bush in Central Hawke’s Bay.
The Regional Pest Management Plan Review (RPMP) – awaiting sign-off next year after consultation – will confirm the extent of predator culling as well as plans for marine biosecurity, Chilean Needlegrass, privet, and goat management.
HBRC will also be reviewing its biosecurity policies on myrtle rust, pea weevil, PSA, fruit fly and other threats that could cause “significant economic damage” to the region.
The main concern of farmers, says Leckie, is they don’t want any slackening of possum control. “They’re concerned we could lose focus if we don’t get the resource mix right.”
Part of the Action Plan is to educate and engage with the public. HBRC currently “supports, advises and often works alongside” around 50 community groups engaged in planting and plant and animal pest control.
It’s involved in environmental education programmes with schools and EIT, and its Open Spaces programme seeks to reconnect people to places like Waitangi and the Pekapeka wetlands and to improve the biodiversity there.
Some critics have suggested that tinkering with the delicate balance of predators and their natural meals; for example, removing wild cats and mustelids, could result in a plague of rats or rabbits heading for Hastings.
Leckie says these perceptions need to be taken into account, as in some cases there may be “genuinely perverse outcomes”.
One concern is that an overly successful restoration of native bird populations could see them target the grapes and fruit in our orchards. “You have to think early on about how to manage that.” Rabbits also present a further challenge in that Hawke’s Bay has some of the best rabbit
Rabbits also present a further challenge in that Hawke’s Bay has some of the best rabbit country in New Zealand. All it takes is a warm, dry winter, poor control and farm management practices, and short cropped grass at breeding time. “There are not enough predators to stop rabbit numbers blowing up when that happens.”
Any talk about 1080 poisoning remains controversial. Although it’s used less frequently on farmland, Leckie says it is likely to be in New Zealand’s toolkit for some time with “well documented successes”, including knock down of possums and rats in deep bush areas where there’s difficult access.
He concedes it’s a tall order getting rid of all rats, which have been with us for over 200 years, but he points to Dr Wright’s view that even if the zero goal can’t be achieved, any control that promotes biodiversity “is a win”.
Ridding the mainland of rats will most likely require genetic engineering; “sterility or breeding males out of the population”, but that would need a 10-15-year “social conversation around acceptability”.
More with less
HBRC’s Iain Maxwell gives a tired shrug at the suggestion his Council is underfunded and under resourced for the predator-free, enhanced habitat proposition ahead. “That’s why we have to work smarter and use technology to get three times as much out of what we already have.”
He says there’s a massive disconnect between community expectations and the scale of the wider biodiversity challenges ahead, with people “no longer tolerating what they have in the past”. He concedes rate increases may be part of the picture.
A lot hangs on the Biodiversity Foundation and its ‘high profi le’ trustees to be appointed after April 2018. The Foundations will aim for an endowment fund of $50 million for regional restoration programmes.
Potential investors include private philanthropic group the Next Foundation, launched in 2014, which has invested $100 million in $5–$15 million increments for a range of environmental and educational projects over ten years.
HBRC invested $50,000 setting up the Biodiversity Implementation Plan, but it will have to dig deeper for additional staff , resources and funding in the 2018-2028 Long Term Plan if it’s to meet central Government directives and its own commitment to the Strategy it is supposed to be leading.