A cluster of about 60 households near Kaeo, in the far north of New Zealand, banded together in 2002 as the Mahinepua-Radar Hill Landcare Group.
This incorporated society runs the Mahinepua Mainland Island Project which aims to control pests and predators to foster a remnant population of Brown Kiwi on private and public land. Pest and predator species specifically targeted include stoats, weasels, ferrets, possums, cats, and rats, and the group also tries to control pigs, goats, and dogs.
While membership in the project is voluntary, most of the local landowners have joined and membership continues to rise as word of its successes spread and the results of its predator control work become more apparent. An annual subscription fee of $60 is asked from each property, while people outside the project area can join the group as “Friends of the Society” for an annual fee of $30.
Project administration is done by a standing committee called the Predator Control Committee. It has the power to make changes to the project and pursue remedies as required. One change it has brought about is a more co-ordinated monitoring scheme that links the work of individual members with those of the contract trapper, and imposes the necessary scientific framework.
Seven group members hold vertebrate pest control licences which means they can buy, store and lay cyanide, phosphorus, and other poisons. A strict inventory of poisons is maintained and the group has a health and safety plan on file with the Department of Conservation (DOC). Best practice and safety is stressed in all operations and undertakings.
Working bees are often used for necessary tasks such as marking, cleaning and maintaining traps, setting poisons in the core area, and creating and maintaining tracks. The group’s comprehensive project work plan is available on request (see contact details at the end).
Group member and secretary, Marj Cox, says the Mahinepua-Radar Hill Landcare Group benefits hugely from support from DOC’s Bay of Islands Area Office whose staff has a “can do” attitude toward solving problems and creating opportunities to progress the group’s projects.
DOC has a management agreement with the group that allows it to control pests and predators on the Tauranga Valley Scenic Reserve. Most of their known kiwi are in or around the DOC-managed and which contains some of the best mature native bush in the area. The management agreement is for five years, with annual renewal.
The Mahinepua-Radar Hill Landcare Group is aligned with the New Zealand Landcare Trust through its regional co-ordinator, Helen Moodie. The Trust has helped the group administer funding from the Biodiversity Fund, and paid for the services of Dr Ray Pierce who audited the group’s monitoring programme, and provide technical support to make sure the operation is aligned to its declared objectives, and that monitoring efforts are co-ordinated.
Size of Area under Protection
The project area covers about 1500 hectares of private properties and 236 hectares of Crown estate. This is divided into 12 “zones” based on geographic and ownership.
The original 2002 project area – the Radar Hill Habitat Enhancement Project – is known as the “Core Area”, and is treated by the members of the group. It receives more rat control and, because it has a 50-metre x 50-metre track grid, is a good control for the project as a whole.
Two of our junior members Caitlin and Brittany, working alongside Jo and Gerlinde, counting plants in a metre-by-metre quadrant. This is part of an ongoing programme that we use to establish the impact of pests and predators on kiwi habitat.
The biggest challenge is finding funds to keep the project running. Annual funding means there is never an end to worry about where next year’s funds will come from.
Dogs are also a continual concern as they could have devastating effects on the small kiwi populations. Dogs are generally recognised as the leading cause of adult mortality in kiwi.
In a predator-free condition, similar to before people arrived in New Zealand, kiwi would enjoy the same life span as humans. Today, the average is closer to 15 years, mostly due to dogs.
Signs to promote awareness have been donated by Kiwis for kiwi – these have been posted along the road and at entry points to the bush. Individual landowners have paid for additional signs strongly warning of dire consequences to dogs found on their properties without express consent. Funds will be sought to put up information and advocacy signs at a lookout point where a tourist stop is planned. One resident who is an active pig hunter has had his dogs trained in kiwi aversion, and is using tracking collars. The group tries to control dogs in the bush by limiting the pig hunting to locals who demonstrate responsible dog handling. Notices are placed on windscreens of hunters’ vehicles to let them know the area is a kiwi sanctuary and discourage them from hunting. A database of dogs shot is being maintained.
A third challenge is the difficulty in contacting nonresident landowners and identifying and approaching the shareholders in Maori trust lands.
The most thrilling success is the results of a survey using a kiwi dog and certified handler to locate kiwi chicks and juveniles. The results show the kiwi population is growing thanks to the group’s predator control efforts. The survey found 11 kiwi of which two weighed less than 1200 grams – this indicates the predator control programme is providing adequate protection to young birds most at risk from stoat predation.
DOC’s Northland Conservancy provided support in the form of a permit that allowed the group to conduct the survey of its kiwi population.
A second bonus of the project is the emergence of a community identity based on people’s shared appreciation of biodiversity values. The community fosters the survival of the local kiwi population, and working together fosters the community.
Funding for the project has come from a number of sources, both private and public. The group’s major project funders have been WWF – New Zealand’s Habitat Protection Fund and the Biodiversity Fund. Most of the budget pays contract wages for a part-time professional trapper who services the predator traps and lays poison for pests. Some of the budget has paid for a survey of the age and sex structure of the kiwi population to demonstrate that the predator control increases chick survival, allowing them to be recruited into the population. Additional funds are being sought to complete the survey next year.
Kiwis for kiwi, through its chief executive, Michelle Impey, is an active partner in funding. The group relies on the Trust for funds to work on public lands, as a condition of its other funding is that it is used on private property. Kiwis for kiwi also provides the expertise of Kiwi Advocate, Wendy Sporle, whose valuable input is always appreciated.
Other funders who contributed to the Mahinepua Mainland Island Project are the:
- Far North District Council – Significant Natural Areas Fund
- Northland Regional Council – Environmental Fund
- ASB Bank Community Trust
The one most important thing
Most important thing we recommend a new group should do is to set up an operational work plan to support your bids for funding – its shows that you’ve thought about what you want to achieve and the best ways to do this.
If you would like to help with the Mahinepua-Radar Hill Landcare Group, or for further information, contact Marj Cox at:
Postal address: 328e Wainui Road, RD 1, Kaeo 0478, Northland
Newsletter: A monthly newsletter, the “Radar Rattler”, is available via email or post by contacting Mary Woodworth at firstname.lastname@example.org.