Bream Head Conservation Trust is a community-led partnership between the community, iwi, the Department of Conservation (DOC), the Northland Regional Council, the Whangarei District Council and the New Zealand Refining Company, with the aim of restoring the area’s natural environment.

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Established in 2002, the Trust’s focus is the headland on the northern side of the entrance to the Whangarei Harbour. Bream Head has outstanding conservation values. It contains Northland’s most significant remaining stand of coastal broadleaf forest, and a diverse range of native plants and animals, including several visiting bird species from offshore islands. Threatened species include insects and lizards, as well as Northland brown kiwi, the New Zealand wood pigeon (kukupa) and kaka. The plant list exceeds 300 species and includes many threatened and regionally significant species.

The Trust’s founding patron was the late Sir Edmund Hillary, who said: “A new century has dawned and with it the realisation that we now stand at the crossroads—the planet’s survival is in our hands, and each of us must contribute to the process of renewal and restoration. With your help, the forests of Bream Head will flourish again and be filled with bird song.”

During his visit to Whangarei Heads, Sir Edmund planted a pohutukawa in the reserve, and at the school he helped children sow seeds of native trees in plant boxes.

The Bream Head Conservation Trust’s main aim is to restore the reserve’s dawn chorus—the glorious cacophony of bird song that sounded throughout New Zealand’s forests before the introduction of mammalian predators—the worst of which are stoats, ferrets, weasels, rats and possums.

Its website contains the vision that, in 2015, a child’s diary may record a visit to Bream Head as:

“Dawn was a chorus of bellbirds. Throughout the day I saw lots of lizards scuttling away and saddlebacks playing in the trees. At dusk there were flocks of kaka screeching overhead, followed by seabirds coming in to land and kiwi calling at night. It was awesome!”

The Trust also aims to preserve the reserve’s archaeological and historical sites, and enhance its recreational and educational potential.

In early 2010, the Trust contracted Peter Mitchell as its ranger. Pete’s background is in farming and construction; with his wife Cathy he was employed for four years as the Matakohe Limestone Island ranger, and brings that experience to his current role.

Most of his work focuses on a core area of 175 hectares, which has some of the reserve’s more mature forest and fertile basins and includes significant known ecological sites, such as the home of a population of rare flax snail (Placostylus hongii). His work complements DOC’s management of the area.

Size of area under protection

Bream Head is approximately 800 hectares in total, made up of the Bream Head and Busby Head Scenic Reserves (administered by DOC), and a small reserve and unformed roads (administered by Whangarei District Council). As well, several small parcels of private land adjoining the Reserves have been purchased by the Nature Heritage Fund, which allowed the Reserve boundaries to be rationalised.

Most of the forested area has a grid of bait stations, spaced at about 50 x150 metres. These are set well above the ground to protect kiwi and other ground-dwelling birds and have been used by DOC for the past 10 years to control possum and rodents. The Trust is now using these lines for its more intensive pest control programme, with the bait stations being serviced monthly in the core area. Possum traps have also been installed at about a 200 x 150 metre spacing.

A volunteer group has been established at Busby Head and, with the Ranger’s guidance, is replicating the work carried out in the core area to control mustelids (stoats, weasels and ferrets), rodents and possums.

Biggest challenge

Bream Head is steep difficult country. After many years operating as a volunteer organisation, the Trust recently decided that employing professional rangers was the best way forward. A 5-year mainland island-style plan for the Reserves has been developed and the Trust is seeking funding to employ a second ranger to expand the core area under intensive management.

Biggest successes

The Trust has had significant community involvement over many years, and has also established a very good working relationship with DOC, the local councils and, more recently, the New Zealand Refining Company. Since 2002, in partnership with DOC, mustelids have been controlled to low numbers and more than 60 kiwi have been released into the Reserve. Local residents now regularly hear kiwi calls.

Intensive management of the core area has also produced very encouraging results, Pete says. Rodents show up in fewer than 6% of the tracking tunnels, down from 84%; and the possum population is now less than 0.5% of what it was before control began.

The Trust has also recently established insect and lizard monitoring programmes to measure changes over time. Species recovery takes time, says Pete, but the current levels of pest control will lead to significant improvement in native plants and animals in the years to come.


Before taking on a full-time ranger in 2010, the Trust’s funding largely came through subscriptions and bequests. Since then it has sought sustainable funding to provide greater security for its ongoing work programmes and its employees. The Trust now looks beyond annual funding rounds, and is seeking longer-term commitments.

Pete says Kiwis for kiwi came on board early in the process, providing the Trust with some valuable leverage when approaching other funding providers. “Eighteen months on we now have three long-term agreements in place,” he says. These are 3-year contracts with the New Zealand Refining Company and the ASB Community Trust, and a 5-year contract with the Northland Regional council.

The one most important thing

Pete says the one most important thing for the Trust is “to encourage the ‘community’ in the widest possible sense of the word to help look after this very special place”.

Contact details

If you would like to volunteer to help the Bream Head Conservation Trust, a membership form is available here. Membership is open to the public, and annual subscription rates are available from the Trust’s website. The ranger is Adam Willetts . For more information, contact him at:


Phone: 09 434 0508


Postal address: The Secretary, Bream Head Conservation Trust, P.O. Box 855, Whangarei, New Zealand.