Titi or sooty shearwater were once common across Banks Peninsula along with many other species of burrowing petrel, by 1995 only one pair remained in mainland Canterbury (that is from Waitaki River just north of Oamaru to the Clarence River north of Kaikoura). Being on the edge of a 200m cliff for safeties sake landowner Mark Armstrong put a post in the ground and secured a rope to it and around his middle before lowering himself onto the slip prone and where the titi nest on the top of this sheer cliff. There he built a chicken wire fence round the last pair. He also established a dense defence of predator traps. This was enough to ensure that the last pair were never truly the last and six years later the first chick fledged.
In 2009 the joint decision of BPCT, DOC, ECan and CCC was made to build a predator ‘proof’ fence around the colony. In 2010 the fence was closed and dramatically the story changed for titi in Canterbury. In 2009, 21 adult pair attempted to nest with only one chick fledging. In 2010, 27 pair attempted nesting and 20 chicks fledged. Year on year numbers have increased until we had 50 nesting attempts this year.
Landowners Shireen and Francis Helps are well known examples of farming conservationists and are often called the ‘penguin farmers’. They were so used to the sound and smell of penguins that they were alarmed when in the 1980’s penguin numbers started to plummet. Instantly they felt a responsibility to step in and help, once it was known it was predators and most especially ferrets that were responsible they established a network of predator traps around the colony. Soon they found that this was not enough and traps needed to be on lines all over their farm to stop predators before they could smell the penguins.
Building nest boxes, monitoring and encouraging DOC to get involved ensured that the decline of penguins was halted, in other areas of Banks Peninsula penguins where pushed back to caves and cliff faces where predators had less access. In 2000 the first survey of Pohatu was undertaken and 717 pair were counted, even then this was found to be the largest mainland colony of penguins in Australia or New Zealand. In 2004, 893 penguin pair were counted. In 2008, 1063 pair and in 2012 a staggering 1304 pair, a year on year increase of 5%. This year when the survey was again repeated 1250 pair were counted and it is believed that Pohatu has finally reached a population limit and is spilling out into areas where penguins have not been found nesting for 20 years.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]The wider impact of this is a community that feels that it lives in a very special and unique environment. There is an overall appreciation of the natural beauty within which we live and work, an appreciation for the native species such as when morepork are heard calling at night. A pride in knowing that iconic species like the New Zealand falcon are returning naturally to breed and that penguin numbers are increasing.[/quote]
Yellow-eyed penguins are found at their northern nesting limit on Banks Peninsula and while the population is small it appears to be robust from the mass mortality and disease events of Otago which makes this population on the mainland valuable. In the late 1980’s up to ten nests produced eleven chicks per year. However, each year a number of predated penguins were also recorded by Peter Dilks, DOC researcher. Over time this loss had a real impact on the population until a dramatic collapse of penguins down to one nest and no chicks occurred throughout the early 2000’s.
Yellow-eyed penguins have been an inspiration for Wildside Coordinator Marie Haley, she will often talk of how as a child she would be at the stream white-baiting with her family when five or six yellow-eyed penguins would come ashore and make their way across the beach to their nests. With the collaboration of the Wildside and working with the community Marie spends much of her summers monitoring nests. The population now averages six nests and six chicks per year, but most importantly there has been no predation recorded in nine years. For the first time in 2017 microchipped chicks from the previous year have been recorded throughout their juvenile year and eight other juveniles have been recorded.
Hinewai Reserve is an outstanding success story of vision and perseverance. Hugh Wilson’s vision for native restoration through gorse as a nursery plant was a first and its impact has been widespread. Hugh’s vision of a Hinewai that protects the full range of vegetation from summit to sea is still in the process of being realised but it did inspire neighbouring landowners to ensure that it happened through their farmland connecting Hinewai summit to sea via a different catchment.
Slowly and organically from the grass roots our community has showed a willingness to care for our environment in a very special and unique way. Long before the Wildside officially existed our landowners have in their own ways taken on the protection of their land and special biodiversity. We now have at our core the largest private reserve in New Zealand, Hinewai at 1570ha. Hinewai turned around a farm that was covered in invasive gorse and was continually ‘managed’ through slash and burn, bulldozing and spraying. Within 30 years much of that original farm has turned back to native forest that is now enjoyed by thousands of freely admitted visitors per year.
But Hinewai is not alone, it is connected by the NZ Native Forest Restoration Trust into Akaroa Township, by Misty Peaks Christchurch City Council Reserve and DOC Ellengowen Reserve along the summits in both directions. By the first summit to sea stream covenant in New Zealand through private farmland. By QEII and BPCT covenants in all directions, other DOC and private reserves and finally connected into the ocean by two Marine Reserves, Pohatu and Akaroa. One quarter of the 13,500ha’s of the Wildside is now legally protected regenerating forest.
It was not our project that changed our environment but the community who has done so and continues to do so out of their own free will and inspiration. The Wildside is coordinated by the BPCT to support landowners in doing what they wish for conservation, we have stream fencing projects currently underway on five properties, while ALL of the thirteen bays within the Wildside have some level of freshwater protection ranging from full catchment covenanting, to partial catchment covenanting, to fencing to exclude stock. We aim to be national leaders in stock exclusion and protection of freshwater. Most landowners on the Wildside are predator trappers, focusing efforts on mustelids and cats for penguin and titi protection. All of our landowners have possum control operated by ECan through a target rate that landowners requested. The Wildside has a special biodiversity possum operation down to less than 2% residual trap catch, this is much lower than the 5% recommended for biodiversity protection. Some landowners are extending upon this by employing contractors to bring possum impacts even lower. Some rat control is being trialled in high biodiversity covenants, however rat control in our rugged terrain and with limiting factors, such as working farms and well connected forest, is very expensive and has limited impacts and is a great challenge. More research and developments in this area would greatly support our rat control ability.
While the community has been undertaking predator control for 25 years they were first fully supported in their efforts when the Wildside was established as a collaboration between all parties, landowners, conservation organisations and government agencies in 2010, with the employment of a Wildside Coordinator by the BPCT. This has created a cohesive inclusive project that aims to support landowners. The wider impact of this is a community that feels that it lives in a very special and unique environment. There is an overall appreciation of the natural beauty within which we live and work, an appreciation for the native species such as when morepork are heard calling at night. A pride in knowing that iconic species like the New Zealand falcon are returning naturally to breed and that penguin numbers are increasing. Landowners feel part of something greater, and even those not naturally drawn to conservation are supportive of the project and additional benefits it brings to the area such as tourism, or a reduction of possum numbers on their valuable farm land.