At the top of the South Island, nestled near the mountains and lakes of Nelson Lakes National Park, the Friends of Rotoiti come together to help the Department of Conservation (DOC) restore the beech forest ecosystem near St Arnaud township.
That restoration includes re-introducing Great Spotted Kiwi to fossick and feed amongst the forest’s leaf litter.
“The Friends of Rotoiti are different from the other kiwi groups in that they are volunteers who support DOC’s work, rather than an independent group,” says DOC Ranger, Sally Leggett. It’s her job to support and help the Friends to help and support DOC – in a virtuous circle. “Half my time is devoted to working with communities, but not every DOC office will be able to provide the level of help and support that we can here in St Arnaud,” she says.
The Friends’ primary focus is to trap rats and stoats in and around St Arnaud Village. They also help monitor the populations of native species, such as lizards, kaka and kiwi.
DOC trains the Friends’ 50 members in the best practice methods for trapping and monitoring. None of the work is contracted out; DOC staff or Friends volunteers do everything.
Sally says the Friends of Rotoiti is a happy marriage between the community wanting to get involved, and DOC needing support for its ambitious beech forest restoration project – the Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project.
“We set it up in response to local residents wanting to help with pest control. We held a public meeting for anyone who wanted to help with the mainland island; we hoped people would be keen on helping with the trapping projects,” she says. Happily, the community’s expectations for getting involved coincided completely with DOC’s expectations.
“From there we developed a plan for how we would proceed and its been trucking along happily every since. They are very dedicated.”
Since it began in October 2001, the group has attracted a wide membership, well beyond the local villagers, and is still growing. While some members are full-time residents at St Arnaud, others are bach-owners who regularly travel from Blenheim or Nelson. Then there are the members of ‘Over 50s’ tramping clubs in Nelson and Blenheim, and local Forest and Bird branches.
Size of area under protection
The Friends’ work covers 250 hectares of rat trapping in and around the St Arnaud Village. As well 26-kilometres of stoat trapping lines run up the Wairau and Rainbow Skifield roads, and the road up Mt Robert. The original stoat trapping lines have been extended with a stoat line along the Lakeside Track to Whisky Falls, on the western side of Lake Rotoiti.
The Friends have also put out many warrior traps along their stoat lines to catch possums and stop them from setting off the stoat traps.
One of the challenges is managing a project that relies in part on volunteer labour. The amount of time people devote to the Friends varies from person to person. For some it depends whether they live locally, or in Blenheim or Nelson. Some Friends put in at least a full day each month; and others are able to give their time every two-to-three months. In summer, when bach-owners are in town, many do five-plus days each month.
While Friends of Rotoiti is a group of DOC volunteers, not an independent organisation, group members do bring a wealth of outside contacts to the cause. For example, Sally says the Nelson West Rotary Club made all the stoat trapping tunnels for the project, because a Friends member is also a member of that club. “Our Friends often call on their other affiliations to help out at working bees.”
Sally says that being in the Rotoiti forest and seeing the benefits pest control brings (increased bird numbers, fewer wasps and predators) is all the motivation the Friends need.
“They have a strong sense of ownership over the area, and commitment to it. Many of the baches have been in the same family for generations and people have been coming here since childhood. They are really rapt to see the positive changes, they can see their contribution is making a difference.”
A definite high point is when people can see the results of their work – dead stoats, more robins in their gardens, and kaka flying over the village.
The Great Spotted Kiwi re-introduction was a major highlight. “The Friends could see that their work had contributed to it, and they were involved in the transfer. Many of our staunchest volunteers were given the opportunity to release birds, and to monitor their progress afterwards. It was a real buzz.”
Because Friends of Rotoiti is a DOC-managed project supported by volunteers, it is wholly funded by the department.
The One Most Important Thing
“Find an area that you care about, and start small – you can always take on more later,” Sally says.
Also, there is no substitute for good advice from conservation experts, or making sure that things are well planned and set up correctly to begin with.
Providing a variety of tasks to suit people’s different abilities and interests works is important, as is making sure people feel supported and appreciated.
If you would like to volunteer to help the Friends of Rotoiti, or would like more information, contact Sally Leggett at:
Phone: (03) 521 1067
Postal address: Department of Conservation, St Arnaud Area, PO Box 55, View Road, St Arnaud.
Newsletter: If you contact Sally she will put you on the mail out list for the biannual newsletter.