The Wildside is an area on the outer edge of Banks Peninsula recognised for its high biodiversity value and a community of landowners who have become conservation leaders for their protection of endangered species some of whom are found nowhere else in the world. Recognised in 2017 with a national Green Ribbon Award from the Ministry for the Environment(MfE) and Department of Conservation (DOC) for Conservation Leadership.
The Wildside started off more than 25 years ago when a farmer Mark Armstrong, who grew up with little blue penguins all over his farm, was showing a visitor a penguin nest under his woolshed. He lifted the floor board to find a ferret in the nest eating the two chicks. Local farmers had wondered why penguin numbers were dropping but this was the first definitive proof that something was really wrong and action needed to be taken! Landowners approached DOC and were able to borrow half a dozen traps. Soon it was found that predators had to be stopped well before they reached the penguin colonies and so trap lines were established by the landowners up the valleys and ten years later DOC established extensive trap lines.
Now over 700 predator traps cover 7000ha of Banks Peninsula in a coordinated program managed by the Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust in a long established partnership with DOC, Christchurch City Council (CCC), Environment Canterbury (ECan) and landowners. Initially the Wildside was a reaction to the issue of predation of the little blue white flippered penguins (endemic to Banks Peninsula) but at the same time Hinewai Reserve was being established by the Maurice White Native Forest Trust and visionary botanist Hugh Wilson. Around the same time the community of traditional farmers were struggling with the 1980’s financial downturn and started to look to diversify their income and the Banks Peninsula Track was formed. This bought about a change from traditional farming to regenerative farming where beautiful scenery, biodiversity and healthy forest was valued for economic reasons.
In 2001 the Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust was formed as the only community group in New Zealand who has the legal statute to covenant private land. Suddenly landowners were empowered to manage their own conservation projects and a new era on Banks Peninsula began. BPCT Trustees as landowners were able to talk over the fence to neighbours and promote habitat protection. Hinewai Reserve was an example of how to turn unprofitable and unmanageable gorse infested land into valued forest.
In 2010, the Wildside coordinator was employed to bring together into one cohesive project all of the many diverse conservation efforts. Born and raised within the Wildside Marie Haley has a grounded understanding of the people and place and worked within the community to set outcomes in a visioning process.
The Wildside outcomes have four broad themes, people, economy, habitat and species. To engage people in the project, both landowners and the future generations through education. To add economic value to the land, by protection of its environmental health and beauty and to promote a unique story. To protect forest habitat, stream health, sites of ecological significance and promote marine protection. To protect the species that we love and by their presence make this place special; yellow-eyed penguin, little blue white-flippered penguins, titi, Akaroa daisy, Banks Peninsula tree weta, jewelled gecko, morepork, falcon and many more. This process showed people what we had to protect and what we had to lose.
The aim of the Wildside has moved on from the initial protection of pelagic sea birds to become a whole landscape restoration project within a living working environment. That means we love and protect our land while we still continue to thrive here ourselves. Collaborative predator control has seen a dramatic turn-around in the sea bird species. Twenty-five percent of the Wildside is protected through covenants or reserves. But something else is happening on the Wildside, we have the first whole stream protected from summit to sea through farmland in New Zealand. The landowners who created this have quietly inspired landowners all around them and BPCT is in the process of covenanting a second whole stream, the upper catchment being already protected completely by Hinewai Reserve. Many other landowners are protecting the streams in their property.