Archives For Ulva Island

The first Air New Zealand-funded transfer of fledgling Stewart Island robins from Ulva Island to a new home in the Dancing Star Foundation sanctuary has taken place successfully, with the assistance of students from Halfmoon Bay School.

Kari Beaven prepares a catch net on Ulva Island.

Kari Beaven prepares a catch net on Ulva Island

The transfer is the first step in a plan to re-establish a population of robins on Stewart Island around parts of the Rakiura Great Walk. Located near the start of the Great Walk, the Dancing Star site offers an ideal opportunity for this. Its predator-free status will allow the young birds to establish a breeding population within this fenced ‘mainland island’.

Otago University researcher Sol Heber records data for each robin.

Otago University researcher Sol Heber records data for each robin

Establishing a new breeding population of Stewart Island robins forms part of a much wider biodiversity project resulting from an exciting new conservation partnership between DOC and Air New Zealand.

The project aims to enrich biodiversity and enhance visitor experiences around New Zealand’s Great Walks, with plans also in place for the Routeburn, Milford and Lake Waikaremoana tracks.

Robins are transported securely in cat carrying boxes.

Robins are transported securely in cat carrying boxes

The recent capture of robins on Ulva Island was undertaken by DOC staff and members of a University of Otago research team. After being measured and weighed the fledglings were placed in boxes in preparation for their journey, initially by boat, to their new location.The Halfmoon Bay School children’s role in the transfer was to assist with the release of the robins. After meeting the boat, the children accompanied the birds, in their boxes, into an area of dense bush inside the Dancing Star sanctuary.

Fledgling robin a little reluctant to leave the safety of the carry box.

Fledgling robin a little reluctant to leave the safety of the carry box

A mihi was performed to welcome the robins to their new home, after which, one by one, boxes were opened by the children and the birds were offered their freedom.

It was such a buzz, they’re still talking about it. One child said, “I didn’t think it was going to let go of the perch”. Another: “I got a fright when it took off”, and another said it was “really cool”. Several thought it was pretty funny taking the birds in cat carrying boxes!
Robins in boxes are accompanied by children from Halfmoon Bay school.

Robins in boxes are accompanied by children from Halfmoon Bay school

As their population establishes and increases, future generations of robins are expected to ‘spill over’ and establish in territories outside the predator-fenced sanctuary. Over time, walkers on the Rakiura Track will be able to see and hear robins.

A trapping programme to manage predators around the Rakiura track is part of the Air New Zealand Great Walk biodiversity project. The project also includes plans to increase the kiwi population and work on the restoration of significant dunes adjacent to the Great Walk.

Helping release the robins into their new home.

Helping release the robins into their new home

The DOC website has the latest updates on the Ulva Island rat eradication.

The work on Ulva Island continues to progress, with the work focussed on planning for an eradication option and obtaining the resource consent for this work.

Operational planning

Planning work is progressing well, key decisions have been made about bait storage, loading site, re-fuelling site etc and organisation of these and other aspects of the operation is well on track.

Documentation such as contracts (bait supply, aerial bait spread), operational plan etc are either completed or in final draft phase.

The operational plan has been sent to the Islands Eradication Advisory Group for feedback, (including questions raised by the community such as merits of pre-feeding and best practice for sowing the coast).

IEAG is a team of DOC experts who provide worldwide technical support for island eradication operations. New Zealand leads the world in this field and the meeting was attended by people from far flung places such as French Polynesia, California and the UK, all seeking advice on how to go about eradicating rats from islands.
Calibration of the helicopter buckets has been organised for the last week of April (April 27th). Bucket Calibration is an important step in the eradication process and is carried out in a flat mowed paddock where all bait can be seen and counted. Non-toxic bait is sown through the bucket that is to be used in the operation and the machinery is tweaked to ensure that bait is sown to the correct swath width (i.e. width of strip sown with bait on each pass) and that the correct number of pellets per hectare are sown. Once the correct bait application spread and rate has been achieved the bucket settings are noted so that the toxic bait can be spread correctly on the day.

Biosecurity meeting

As mentioned in the last update, a public meeting will be held at 7.30pm on 28th of April in the Stewart Island Community Centre. This meeting will discuss any and all ideas about possible ways to improve the biosecurity on Ulva Island to further reduce the chances of rats establishing in the future. If you have any ideas, or are simply interested to hear what might be proposed, please come along.


The University of Otago’s bird research group (who monitor robins on Ulva Island every summer) have offered to monitor the effects of the baiting operation and the effects that the rats have had on the birds on Ulva Island. It will be great to have this independent monitoring of the operation.

Trapping stopped

Some confusion seems to have arisen around the reasons as to why we have stopped trapping on Ulva Island.

The long term exisiting biosecurity measures on the island are aimed at preventing a rat population becoming established. In this case, they have failed and a rat population has established. Continuing to run these traps and bait stations will not even now slow the rat population expansion and is therefore considered to be a waste of time. Servicing them has stopped so we can focus efforts on a proper eradication attempt. This has been misinterpreted by some as DOC giving up. The fact is that we are well down the planning track for an aerial eradication attempt.



The DOC website has the latest updates on the Ulva Island rat eradication.


A list of Frequently Asked Questions about the situation on Ulva Island has been compiled and placed on the Department of Conservation website.

This list of questions covers what is happening with the rats on Ulva Island as well as information about the proposed eradication operation. If you have another question that isn’t covered by this list, please let me know and I’ll see if I can add it in so that the information is available for everyone.


A date has been set for the meeting to discuss biosecurity. The meeting is planned for the 7.30pm, Thursday 28th April at the Community Centre.

Biosecurity is the term that we give to all of the actions that we take to keep an island pest free. On Ulva Island it consisted of traps and bait stations on the island, traps on people’s boats, quarantine procedures for gear going to Ulva, signage and regular publicity. While the biosecurity network on the island was effective at preventing a rat population establishing for 15 years, it has failed this time round. This has prompted lots of people to have ideas on how it could be improved to further reduce the chances of this situation occurring again. We would like to capture all of these ideas, so please bring them along to the meeting.


Kamahi and ferns, Ulva Island, Stewart Island

The eradication operation isn’t going to be cheap and DOC doesn’t have the funding to pay the full cost of the operation. The Department has reprioritised its work and has found about 50% of the costs.

Thankfully we are starting to get some good community support behind what needs to be done on Ulva Island. This started with The Birdlife International Community Conservation Fund pledging $5000 toward the costs. The Les Hutchins Conservation Foundation has also shown strong support with a promised substantial donation toward the operation. On top of this, the University of Otago has offered to monitor the impact of the rats and the eradication operation on the saddleback and robin populations.

If you think you can help, the Ulva Island Trust is co-ordinating donations. Further details of how to give can be found on their website

Resource consent lodged

The Department has lodged a resource consent application with Environment Southland. Environment Southland has notified this consent allowing anyone to make a submission. This notification was in this past Saturday’s newspaper as well as the ES website.

Environment Southland run a good process and we think they will be a good independent evaluator of our proposed methods and controls. We encourage you to make a submission (in support or expressing your concerns), so that ES can fully evaluate this application.