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The Wildside Project – Banks Peninsula

The Wildside is a unique New Zealand example of Community Conservation in Action, where landowners are actively leading the way on private land towards the restoration of an entire ecosystem within a working landscape.

Marie Haley, The Seventh Generation 2019

Conservation work on the Wildside started 30 years ago when a farmer Mark Armstrong, who grew up with little blue penguins all over the farm, was showing visitors a penguin nest under his woolshed. He lifted the floor board to find a ferret in the nest with two dead adults. This ferret was found to contain the remains of seven newly hatched penguin chicks. Local farmers had wondered why penguin numbers were dropping and Mark had spent eight years looking for a reason, but this was the first definitive proof that something was really wrong and action needed to be taken. That was in 1988 – the first year that adult penguins started to be predated upon and six yellow-eyed chicks were also lost. Sixteen ferrets were trapped in that first year but it was five years before he caught the last one and the carnage stopped, but not before two-thirds of the white-flippered penguin population were killed in Stony Bay.

Mark Armstrong (right) and trapper John Stuart at the door to the titi colony on the Wildside.

Armstrong approached DOC and were able to borrow half a dozen traps. It soon became obvious that halting the decline meant stopping predators well before they reached the penguin colonies, so trap lines were established by the landowners up the valleys. Ten years later DOC established extensive trap lines along the ridges to cliff edges.

Shireen and Francis Helps are often called the ‘penguin farmers’. They were so used to the sound and smell of penguins that they were alarmed when in the 1980s penguin numbers started to plummet. Many years of hard yakka in predator control, building nest boxes, and monitoring nests ensured that the decline of penguins was halted in Flea Bay/Pōhatu.

In other areas of Banks Peninsula penguins were pushed back to caves and cliff faces where predators had less access. In 2000/01 the first survey of Pōhatu was undertaken and 717 pairs were counted; even then this was found to be the largest mainland colony of penguins in Australia or New Zealand. In 2004, 893 penguin pairs were counted. In 2008, 1063 pair and in 2012 a staggering 1304 pairs; a year on year increase of five percent.

Little Blue Penguin in a nest box at Flea Bay.

Yellow-eyed penguins are found at their northern nesting limit on Banks Peninsula and while the population is small it appears to be isolated from the mass mortality and disease events of Otago, which makes this population on the mainland particularly valuable. In the late 1980s up to ten nests produced eleven chicks per year. However, each year a number of predated penguins were also recorded. Over time this loss had a real impact on the population culminating in a dramatic collapse of penguins down to one nest and no chicks throughout the early 2000s. The trend of one nest and no chicks has occurred again in 2018-2020 summers, land predators are under control, so the impacts this time appear to be from avian malaria, warm summers and the fishing industry destroying habitat and catching penguins as by-catch (largely unrecorded).

Juvenile yellow-eyed penguin at Flea Bay Pohatu Marine Reserve on the Wildside.

Yellow-eyed penguins have been an inspiration for Marie Haley. As a child she often witnessed large groups of yellow-eyed penguins at her beach, where there are no penguins nesting now. Hoiho numbers have dropped across mainland New Zealand and are now listed as endangered, with the population on Banks Peninsula remaining small and very vulnerable. A recovery plan needs to be implemented to ensure that this breeding area is safe for penguins migrating north from the core mainland population in Otago.

Marie Haley holding a yellow-eyed penguin for weighing on the Wildside.

Titi or sooty shearwater were once common across Banks Peninsula along with many other species of burrowing petrel, but by 1995 only three pairs remained in mainland Canterbury at Stony Bay on the edge of a 200m cliff. Intrepid landowner Mark Armstrong drove a post in to the ground and secured himself to it with a rope around his waist, before lowering himself on to the slip-prone area where the titi nest on the top of this sheer cliff. There he built a chicken wire fence around that last pair. He also established a defensive line of predator traps. This was enough to ensure that the last pair were not lost to local extinction.

Titi or sooty shearwater, one of the worlds greatest migratory birds traveling over 65,000km’s each year from NZ to waters off Japan and Alaska.

Local groups formed a collaboration to build a predator-excluder fence around the colony. In 2010 the fence was closed and the story for this titi colony dramatically changed. In 2009 only one chick fledged and the very next year 20 chicks started on their great annual migration to Japan and Alaska. Year on year numbers have increased until we had 50 nesting attempts in 2018 with 33 chicks recorded pre-fledging.

Bar graph showing titi nesting attempts (blue) and chick at fledging (purple) on the Wildside

Initially the Wildside was a reaction to the issue of predation of little blue white-flippered penguins, endemic to Banks Peninsula. At the same time the community of traditional farmers was struggling with the 1980s financial downturn and started to look to diversify their income with on-farm tourism operations. One of these was the Banks Peninsula Track. This brought about a shift from traditional farming to regenerative farming where beautiful scenery, biodiversity, and healthy forest were valued for economic reasons.

When in 1987 Hugh Wilson confidently set out to use gorse scrub as nursery canopy for spontaneous native forest restoration, Hinewai was among the first projects to apply this ecological understanding on a significant scale. It’s impact has been widespread. Hinewai is now the largest private reserve in New Zealand at 1250ha (1570ha under Hinewai management), turning around a marginal farm covered in gorse to native forest within 30 years. Hugh envisioned a reserve that protects the full range of vegetation and wildlife from summit to sea, now in 2020 we are on the cusp of seeing this come vision coming into creation. However, neighbouring conservation covenants across the Haleys’ and Simpsons land in Fishermans’ Bay have seen this become a reality as the first full catchment protected ki uta ki tai through farmland in New Zealand.

Hugh Wilson, botanist, linguist and artist, teaches the next generation at Hinewai Reserve.

Hinewai is not alone. It is now connected into the Akaroa town catchment by protected areas owned by the NZ Forest Restoration Trust, by Misty Peaks Christchurch City Council Reserve and along the crater rim in both directions by DOC Ellangowen Reserve and by Queen Elizabeth II National Trust (QEII) and BPCT covenants, and other DOC and private reserves including Josef Langer Trust’s Panama Reserve. The Wildside is connected into the ocean by two Marine Reserves; Pohatu and Akaroa.

DOC Ranger Robin Burleigh was involved with the protection of both species of penguin and managed the comprehensive Banks Peninsula little blue penguin census in 2000/01. The overwhelming impression was that the penguins were found in greatest numbers from Le Bons Bay to the Akaroa Headland, with a higher range of biodiversity, less weed pests and fewer exotic habitats than the wider Banks Peninsula. Robin was the visionary who dreamed of the Wildside, an area with biodiversity worthy of special protection and with landowners who were deeply engaged in conservation that needed support and collaboration with agencies. Robin talked to key researchers, agencies and landowners and with wide ranging support, and funding from the Josef Langer Charitable Trust to contract trapper John Stuart and Wildside Coordinator Marie Haley, the Wildside was born.

Rangers from different government agencies, landowners and the community all work together to protect special species and landscapes on the Wildside.

The focus of the Wildside has moved on from the initial protection of pelagic sea birds to become a truly collaborative whole landscape restoration project within a living and working environment. The successes are considerable. Collaborative predator control has resulted in a dramatic turn-around for sea bird species. Twenty-four percent (at 2018) of the Wildside is protected through private covenants (17.5%) or public reserves (6.5%), and this figure is ever increasing. The first whole stream protected from summit to sea through farmland in New Zealand was on the Wildside, and seven other Wildside catchments currently have freshwater fencing underway, with the majority of each stream protected in nearly every bay.  

The Wildside project, indicated by black line, reserves in block colour, predator traps as dots. Covering 13,500ha and multiple bays and landowners.

In 2017 the Wildside was the WINNER of both the Green Ribbon National Community Leadership Award as well as the Inaugural Community Bio-security Award. Giving acknowledgement to this humble community who for 30 years have gotten out in all types of weather and across all sorts of terrain to protect and celebrate the special species who live here alongside us.

Marie Haley, collecting the 2017 Community Leadership Green Ribbon Award, and making an impassioned speech as to the importance of communities taking ownership of their environments and quietly leading the way.

Pest Free Banks Peninsula 2050

The Wildside is where initial work towards Pest Free Banks Peninsula will begin. Already the Wildside is free of goats one of the pests listed under the aims of Predator Free Banks Peninsula. The Wildside is also free of wild pigs and has 25% of it’s area fenced to remove stock browse another form of pest for habitat restoration. After 30 years of predator control the Wildside has extremely low ferret numbers. PFNZ2050 aims to eradicate stoats, rats and possums from New Zealand by 2050. Pest Free Banks Peninsula are working towards 20,000ha of possum eradication on Banks Peninsula, starting on the Wildside where already more than 5000ha has possum numbers below 2% and Hinewai Reserve has recorded 0 possums in test lines (of course the possums are still there!) These aims are big, and the comprehensive Wildside Management Recommendations aims to give very practical suggestions to ensure that risks and opportunities are well understood.

Wildside Blog

Community Conservation In Action

The focus of the Wildside has moved on from the initial protection of pelagic sea birds to become a truly collaborative whole landscape restoration project within a living and working environment. The successes are considerable.

Marie Haley The Seventh Generation Guide Akaroa History and Nature Tour

Marie Haley Seventh Generation Local Guide

Marie stands here on the cliff tops of her Great Great Grandfathers farm. Knowing where she is from fills her with a deep sense of place or tūrangawaewae (knowing where she stands). Understanding her personal and national history informs her unique worldview. From this arises a deep love of this unique place in the world, Akaroa, a place of immense history, incredible beauty and natural...
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Wildside Management Recommendations by Marie Haley 2018

The following recommendations are based on eight years as the Wildside Co-ordinator working from within the community, from the recommendations of Andy Cox senior pest threats advisor at DOC (2014), widespread consultation, and from national best practice.
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Trappers Guide

The purpose of this Trappers Guide is to improve the operation and maintenance of our trapping program. This guide should help professional and volunteer trappers alike and standardise the management of traps across land ownership or tenure.
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The Wildside Story

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...
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Fools & Dreamers: Watch the full documentary here!

Fools & Dreamers is a 30-minute documentary telling the story of Hinewai Nature Reserve, on Canterbury’s Banks Peninsula, and its kaitiaki/manager of 30 years, botanist Hugh Wilson. We learn about the commitment of Hugh and the Maurice White Native Forest Trust to regenerate marginal, hilly farmland into native forest, using a minimal interference method that allows nature to do the work,...
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Banks Peninsula Locals Sustainability Story

Watch this video to understand why Banks Peninsula is such a remarkable place! Local student Marco Varray, 12, has created this winning documentary film in the National Outlook for Someday competition. The film features local characters who tell their story of sustainability, it also captures the unique outlook of this rural community who are passionate about living a sustainable and...
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2017-18 Yellow-Eyed Penguin Report by Marie Haley

For the first time in 2018 we have recorded Banks Peninsula breed and a microchipped yellow-eyed penguin (YEP) returning in the second year moult.Five nests were located on Banks Peninsula, all within the Wildside. Three nests were abandoned by end December. Three chicks hatched, one disappeared and one died of avian malaria in care, with one fledging with malaria.
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2017 Green Ribbon Award Winner

The Wildside story started 25 years ago, when a Banks Peninsula farmer set out to protect the little blue penguins on his farm. Since then this project has grown to harness a whole community in protecting the special environment of the Banks Peninsula.
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Achieving a predator free Banks Peninsula – costs revealed

These are some of the questions answered in a scoping analysis just released by the Rod Donald Banks Peninsula Trust and Lincoln University’s Centre for Land, Environment and People. The Trust instigated the scoping report and funded a summer scholar to assist Lincoln researchers Max Curnow and Geoff Kerr.
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Sea Bird Survey 2017

The Banks Peninsula Sea Bird Survey 2017 got off to a spectacular start yesterday with perfect sea and weather conditions. Marie Haley and a team from the Department of Conservation and Christchurch City Council surveyed the whole Wildside coastline from Le Bons Bay to Akaroa for the beautiful spotted shag, white fronted tern, red-bill gull and more. Marie even landed on a predator free...
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Yellow-eyed Penguins Endangered

  Across the mainland hōiho or yellow-eyed penguins (YEP) are having a tough time of it. This year the number of breeding pairs on Otago Peninsula was only about 200 compared to 600 in the 1990’s. Otago University researcher Thomas Mattern reports the outlook for populations around the South Island is bleak “the situation is all but lost, but we need to act and we don’t have much...
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Predator Free New Zealand

Wildside’, named for its rugged landscape, dramatic cliffs and iconic species of birds, insects and plants – some of which are not found anywhere else in New Zealand.
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Wildside Performance Report 2010-2015

This report has been prepared for the Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust (BPCT) Wildside Project. The Wildside is an area of 13,500 ha on the South-eastern bays of Banks Peninsula. It covers a mixture of private rural farmland (75%) and private and public conservation reserves (25%), the largest of which is Hinewai Reserve at 1270 ha. Over 25 years the Wildside Project has grown from a small...
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2015 Wildside DOC Review by Andy Cox and Marie Haley

This report summarises the observations and information from a brief review of aspects of the Wildside programme.
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The Wildside project aims to restore the range of species found within an ecosystem and to protect the unique and iconic species that already exist on Banks Peninsula. The project manages the largest penguin colony on mainland Australasia of white-flippered little blue penguins, in “Flea Bay with a yearly 5% increase in breeding pairs” (RFFBH, GSFBH, and PMLBH). The colony has grown from “717...
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Usefulness of two bioeconomic frameworks for evaluation of community-initiated species conservation projects

Abstract Context. Community-based conservation managers and their funding providers must apportion limited resources to potential projects that provide varying biodiversity benefits. Funding applicants must demonstrate that proposed projects are likely to provide positive conservation returns on investments. Aims. We investigated the practical usefulness of two bioeconomic frameworks, the...
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Abundance and breeding distribution of the white-flippered penguin (Eudyptula minor albosignata) on Banks Peninsula, New Zealand

A survey of the white-flippered penguin (Eudyptula minor albosignata) nesting colonies on Banks Peninsula, New Zealand was made during the 2000/01 and 2001/02 breeding seasons.
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