The Whangarei Heads in the north of New Zealand is a significant place.
Not just for the area’s grand beauty, but also for the way its communities are joining forces to protect kiwi, remove weeds and restore its biodiversity.
The Whangarei Heads Landcare Forum (WHLF) is an incorporated society established in 2000 to support local community projects set up to protect the biodiversity in people’s back yards. One of these projects is aptly named the ‘Backyard Kiwi’ project, and celebrates the partnership between kiwi and people in the Whangarei Heads area.
A founding member, Helen Moodie, says residents were initially motivated by the information put out by the Kiwis for kiwi. “It made them realise that hearing kiwi nearly every night from their homes was a privilege and not something they could take for granted. They wanted their grandchildren to be able to listen to kiwi from their back garden.”
The focus of the Backyard Kiwi programme complements the Department of Conservation’s (DOC’s) Northland Kiwi Sanctuary which includes the Bream Head area. The sanctuary is managed by DOC’s Whangarei Area Office. With the support of a strong community group, predators and possums have been controlled to low levels in the Bream Head Reserve and kiwi reintroduced.
The Forum has also developed relationships with a wide range of agencies, from those who provide expertise and practical know-how, such as DOC and the Northland Regional Council, to those who provide funding.
Size of Area under Protection
The Whangarei Heads Landcare Forum protects 6000 hectares.
Predator control is pivotal to the Back Yard programme’s future success. Most of the local predator control work is trapping for mustelids (stoats, ferrets and weasels) and cats, and some possum control.
Stoats are notoriously wily and difficult animals to trap, so this work can be difficult and unrewarding, says Helen. “It can be really hard to maintain enthusiasm and commitment over the long-term when you can’t expect to catch more than one stoat for every 400 trap nights.” That is why the stoat trapping is largely left to the professional hunter employed using funding sourced by the Forum’s predator control groups.
The main concern from Helen’s point of view is how to sustain the communities’ efforts in the long-term—50 years, 100 years, 500 years from now. “As long as predators remain a threat to kiwi they will need to be trapped, and someone will have to do it.”
Another issue, perhaps ironic, is the downside of success. As word spreads about the really positive outcomes communities can achieve, more groups want to get involved, and more and more local projects begin. These all end up competing for the same limited pool of funding.
A big success is the local community’s increased appreciation and involvement with the project, Helen says. Advocacy of the kiwi’s plight has helped turn around people’s natural suspicion of outside interference, and more and more are willing to provide the project with access to their private land and get involved. More people are also getting the message to keep their dogs under control—as they begin to appreciate how very close to houses some of the kiwi live
Creating the forum to bring together the various groups operating on the Whangarei Heads has taken a ground swell of community interest and involvement and turned that energy into more structured projects that can secure resources, Helen says. When approached by the groups, her first step was to develop a resource document that identified the Heads’ biodiversity values, the threats to those values, current management efforts and potential objectives for restoration (including kiwi recovery). From this, a workplan was prepared and funding sought to put it into practice.
The Most Important Things
Because the majority of kiwi at the Whangarei Heads are on private land, the most important thing has been to develop a good, long term relationship with landowners in the area – because they manage the land, only they can truly ensure that kiwi remain in the area in the long term. Time spent meeting with people, getting to know them and earning their trust and involvement is crucial.
Being strategic is also vital. The project team has spent time making sure it is proposing the most appropriate thing for its area, and has prepared a resource document to guide its work.
“To be successful, projects like the Whangarei Heads Landcare Forum need to be driven by the private landowners. DOC has a lot of knowledge and resources and a big role in a project, but it has to be a genuine partnership. If you are setting up a project, persist until you find someone committed to supporting community-driven projects,” Helen says.
If you would like to volunteer to help the Whangarei Heads Landcare Forum, contact its coordinator at:
Or contact Todd Hamilton at:
Phone: 09 974-8160