By Lou Sanson, Director-General
Randstad Award – DOC voted most attractive employer
For the second year in a row, DOC has taken out the supreme Randstad award for ‘most attractive employer’ in New Zealand. Almost half of the 7,000 members of the public surveyed for the award (48%) said they would like to work for DOC. This award is a huge credit to all our staff and partners who create such a positive brand image for the Department.
Bumper breeding season for Kākāpō Recovery Programme
Our Kākāpō Recovery Programme has had a fantastic season, successfully hatching 37 chicks – a record for the programme. For a species that was once down to just 18 birds in the 1970s, this is a tremendous achievement.
Flooding in Franz Josef
I’d like to acknowledge one of our staff who was part of the emergency response when the Waiho River broke its banks just before Easter. Wayne Costello, who’s one of our operations managers (and a local Civil Defence coordinator), was part of the response team that evacuated almost 200 people from Franz Josef accommodation before a torrent of water came through. Through quick thinking and excellent emergency planning, they avoided what could have been a disaster. Well done to Wayne and all involved.
China and New Zealand agreement to protect migratory shorebirds
In March, Associate Minister Nicky Wagner and I joined a delegation from the Chinese State Forestry Administration at the Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre to sign a new memorandum of arrangement (MOA) with Vice Minister Chen Fengxue. This means we will work together to ensure the protection of shorebird habitat in both New Zealand and China.
This was the culmination of twenty years of work by the Pukorokoro Miranda Naturalists’ Trust who identified, through field surveys in China and North Korea and use of geotags, a seven kilometre stretch of beach in Bohai Bay, China which provides critical feeding ground for shorebirds migrating to the Siberian Arctic. It is critical we work with China to save this section of mudflats, which has been used by these birds for thousands of years.
This MOA is a significant step forward as we try to turn around the decline of bar-tailed godwit and red knots.
The ceremony at Pukorokoro Miranda included a powhiri and recognition of key partners Ngati Pāoa, Fonterra, Waikato Regional Council and QEII Trust.
Te Araroa – Paekakariki Escarpment Track
Conservation Minister Maggie Barry opened the new Paekakariki Escarpment Track in April. This 10 kilometre track is one section of the Te Araroa Trail, a 3,000 kilometre route spanning the length of New Zealand. We contributed around 60% of the final cost of the track, which is managed by Te Araroa Trust.
Over an early autumn weekend I walked the track with my family and was incredibly impressed.
The track includes brilliant interpretation signage telling walkers about Ngāti Toa’s early gardens and the story of early New Zealand transport. It boasts superb groves of kohekohe forest laden with fruit and a very good predator control programme run by the local community, Kiwirail and QEII Trust.
At the end of the track visitors can catch a Kiwirail train back to their cars, making it an easy way to get into the outdoors for some physical exercise. If we can get more New Zealanders to do short walks like this, we’ll be well on our way to a healthier population (see Healthy Nature Healthy People for more).
NEXT Foundation – ZIP and Project Janszoon
Project Janszoon, Abel Tasman National Park
Since its establishment in 2012 Project Janszoon has achieved a dramatic transformation of ecosystems and the ability of the public to experience ‘Our Nature’ in Abel Tasman National Park. Key indicator species are improving, they have a superb education programme and there is continued strong community support.
The next priorities are to expand predator management and develop monitoring indicators that will signal the transfer of Project Janszoon’s work back to the Government for a new maintenance phase (as agreed under The Tomorrow Accord). We will work with Janszoon to help scale their environmental education programme as well.
This $25 million project was funded by Neal and Annette Plowman, the benefactors who established the NEXT Foundation. Janszoon was the forerunner for other large-scale conservation projects in New Zealand including ZIP and the Taranaki Mounga Project.
Zero Invasive Predators Ltd, Bottle Rock Peninsula, Marlborough Sounds
With members of the ZIP team, we visited Ship Cove where ZIP’s predator defence system is protecting a 400 hectare area from reinvasion by possums, rats and stoats. Since ZIP was established in February 2015, their team of 12 has come a long way with their research and technology (satellite remote reporting, social lures, radio tracking of invading rats and stoats).
They are now beginning to plan operations at the next scale (a site of approximately 400 hectares) to further test their ‘Remove and Protect’ system.
ZIP is funded by NEXT, DOC, Morgan Foundation, Jasmine Social Investments, and a collective of New Zealand dairy companies, resulting in leverage of $6 for every $1 invested by the Department.
Wasp control breakthrough
Wasp densities in New Zealand are now among the highest in the world which is remarkable given common wasps didn’t arrive in New Zealand until 1972.
So it’s exciting that one of the greatest breakthroughs we’ve made recently is the work our science and operations staff have been doing with partners to control wasps with protein-based bait containing the insecticide Fipronil.
At St Arnaud recently our staff took me through the work they were doing to prevent wasps reaching very high numbers in peak season of February to April. This is when wasps deplete nectar and honeydew resources and start attacking insects and spiders and become a nuisance. Staff described honeydew beech forests and nearby open areas humming with flying wasps hunting for insects.
Our work in this area means for the first time the country has a great new tool for reducing the impact of these introduced pests. Members of the public can buy the wasp bait for private use from the Nelson-based company Merchento.
Journey down the Whanganui River
Over Easter I visited Whanganui, where I spent a day on the river with our Taumaranui ranger Peter Rihia.
Peter has had 31 years on the river and has the huge respect of tourism operators, Iwi and landowners alike. It was fantastic to hear his stories of the marae along the river, see the waka pole marks and pay respects to the river Taniwha.
Tourism on Whanganui River is having its busiest ever year. There are ten tourism operators offering canoeing, cycling and jet boating opportunities attracting around 30,000 people to participate in these activities along the river. The day I was there was one of the busiest, with 300 canoes on the river.
While in Whanganui, I biked the Mangapurua/Kaiwhakauka Mountain Bike track. This track tells one of our great historic stories. Parcels of land in this remote valley were settled by soldiers after World War I but by the 1940s, settlers had been forced out by the poor access, weather conditions, erosion and falling stock prices.
The track runs 28 kilometres downhill to the Bridge to Nowhere. On the way, you pass wooden signs bearing the names of original settlers on their previous camp or house sites.
The next phase of work is to work with the Friends of Mangaparua on a historic interpretation plan for the valley, so future visitors can learn more about the intriguing history of this failed settlement.
Blue Duck Station – Whanganui River
While on the Whanganui River, Peter took us to meet the Steele family at Whakahoro. Richard and Rachel Steele moved to their farm in 1993 and their son Dan bought the neighbouring farm in 2006. Today Dan runs Blue Duck Station across 1400 hectares of hill country. The station is a successful business integrating a predator control programme, sheep and beef farm, manuka honey production and a thriving tourism offering.
Blue Duck Station is a farming and conservation success story. Dan essentially shares the predator free NZ story with 7,000 people a year. He was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship last year to increase the profile of New Zealand farming sustainability and conservation.
Their tourism venture is currently turning over around 14,000 bed nights each year and it’s growing every year.
Dan now runs 500 traps across the farm as part of the DOC/Horizons Regional Council Kia Wharite project, a 180,000 hectare predator control programme. Each year they catch an estimated 1,500 rats, 100 stoats and 50 feral cats at Blue Duck Station.
The Steeles use QEII covenants to ensure long term protection. We saw their whio programme and heard of flocks of 100 tui now being seen in the valley. Dan will be a keynote speaker at this year’s Environmental Defence Society Conference in Auckland this August. One of New Zealand’s great farming inspirations!
Wild for Taranaki
The Trust is made up of 19 different groups including DOC, Iwi, Fish & Game and the Taranaki Regional Council, working together to raise the profile of Taranaki’s biodiversity, encourage participation in conservation and develop new projects. Initiatives like this have great potential to supercharge ‘Predator Free New Zealand’.