Omataroa Kiwi Project - Header Image

“You know, to me, everybody looks at it that we’re helping the kiwi. But I think, in actual fact, it’s the other way. The kiwi are looking after the people.”

Ian Tarei knows better than most that if we look after the land, the land will look after us. He has been earning a living in the Omataroa forest since he was about 12 years old, when he started trapping possums. These days, his remit is much broader. As the Project Manager for Omataroa Kiwi Project, he finds himself wearing many hats; trapper, trainer, mentor and businessman to name but a few.

Omataroa Kiwi Project looks after almost 11,000 hectares of forest in the Bay of Plenty region with their pest and predator control programmes. It all started in 2000 after surveys done in the area identified that kiwi numbers were declining rapidly. When it came to finding people to help put the infrastructure in place to start a trapping programme in 2006, Ian and his team were an obvious choice.

Over the past 10 years, Ian has noticed significant changes in the forest, including a rise in the number of native species. “When we first went in there, the bush was really quiet,” says Ian. “Now, it’s completely different. I went in recently to track a kiwi and the morning chorus was so noisy, I couldn’t hear my receiver properly. I’ve also been seeing more kiwi prints and more people have been reporting sightings of them.”

Birds aren’t the only creatures to be more common though. “In all the years I’ve been in there, I’ve never seen any geckos or lizards,” explains Ian. “But we found two this year during our monitoring so I was told that’s a good sign. Invertebrates are also really benefitting. I was doing an egg lift recently and I came across about 30 different invertebrates within about 10m, including baby weta.”

This explosion of life in the forest is the result of the hard work done by Ian and his team. It hasn’t always been easy though. Kiwis for kiwi started working with the Omataroa Kiwi Project in 2011. With numerous stakeholders involved, the Trust was struggling to get everyone to work together towards a common goal. Morgan Cox, Kaitautoko Kaupapa Kiwi for Kiwis for kiwi, started working with Ian to establish how the different groups, including Ngā Whenua Rāhui, Department of Conservation, Bay of Plenty District Council, and Rayonier Matariki Forests could support the project.

“Morgan basically just saved the project,” explains Ian. “He came at a critical time. It was the best thing Kiwis for kiwi could have done, sending him. He came in, got everyone together and hepled create a stakeholder group, which is still working together to this day.”

They say it takes a village to raise a child. The same could be said for kiwi. For it to be successful, a range of different groups often have to work together. Navigating this landscape can be complicated and this is where Kiwis for kiwi, as a national organisation, can help.

Providing advice and guidance to community-, iwi-, hapū- and whānau-based kiwi conservation groups is one of our key roles. From helping to advise groups just starting up, to connecting established groups to useful networks; and from pointing people in the right direction for best practice, to giving feedback on funding proposals; we can draw on over 20 years’ experience working in the kiwi conservation space to help groups get the best outcomes.

Since 2011, the Omataroa Kiwi Project has gone from strength to strength. With a sustainable funding model in place, it is not only protecting native species but also providing an income for local whānau. “You know, to me, everybody looks at it that we’re helping the kiwi,” says Ian. “But I think in actual fact, it’s the other way around because they’re getting the people back on the land. We’re doing all the work behind looking after them and that has an effect on the community like there’s extra houses in the community that are getting guaranteed bread and butter on the table every night. Then you start bringing in the next generation of kaitiaki because they’re living with the parents that are working on the land and they start seeing all of that and there’s all that flow on effect. I also look at it that way. The kiwi are looking after the people.”

The success of the project has been recognised far and wide with Ian recently winning the 2016 Green Ribbon Award for Kaitiaki leadership. As a flagship for the potential of Māori conservation projects, Ian is now being called upon to be a mentor himself. “I’m only too keen to get out there and help other small communities” says Ian. “We’ve had great support from a few different kiwi conservation groups over the years including Whakatane Kiwi Trust, Project Kiwi, Lake Waikaremoana Hapū Restoration Trust and of course Kiwis for kiwi and I’m keen to pay that forward. We’re really grateful to have that support and for everything that they have all done to teach us how to do various things and help us with things like call count monitoring.”

“People are looking at us now because we’ve been working with Ngā Whenua Rāhui and they want to use that experience. I’m basically going around to other groups that want to sign up to a kawanata and saying, look, we’ve been going for 10 years, this is how it works, this is the benefit to your land. And there’s all that spill on effect in a small community. You’re getting people that are full-time employed, you work with the next generation of kids coming through. All that. So I’m pretty excited about that. Anything to help the people. I’m in there.”

By being there at the right time, Kiwis for kiwi has been able to help Omataroa Kiwi Project turn itself around from a struggling project on the brink of collapse to becoming a shining example of what a successful project can achieve. In turn, Ian and his team are now in a position to share their experience for the benefit of conservation nationwide.

“I think of Ian and his team as our colleagues now, rather than a project we’re helping,” says Morgan Cox. “Ian has made things work in his community and on Māori owned land. Other Māori communities see that success and it gives them confidence, it makes the impossible possible, and it lays down a wero (challenge) that people are picking up. By working as a team Kiwis for kiwi and Omatartoa Kaitiaki are able to offer more to Māori communities that want to exercise their kaitiakitanga.”

As well as continuing to protect kiwi and grow their population, Ian has set his sights on introducing other native species back to the forest, including kōkako, kaka, kakariki and tieke. “Anything we can put in there, I’d love to do that” he says. With continuing to grow the Omataroa Kiwi Project and increasing his mentoring of other groups, it looks like Ian will have his hands full over the next few years!

Header image (c) Omataroa Kiwi Project