Northland groups protecting kiwi and other wildlife.
Northlanders are passionate about ensuring kiwi and other native species are kept safe. They work together in groups, doing what it takes to ensure kiwi thrive – be it helping to create awareness, in particular that any dog running free can be a kiwi killer; or controlling pests such as possum, rats and stoats.
Should Northlander Todd Hamilton ever bother to focus on himself, rather than the wild places and wildlife he loves, he would likely say he is ‘new conservationist’. Not for him the traditional approach of locking up our native flora and fauna taonga and throwing away the key. Rather, his mission is to build the awareness of us Kiwis of the human kind of what treasures we, often literally, have in our backyards – and what we need to do to live and thrive, side-by-side. Todd is project manager at Whangarei Heads Landcare Forum. He fronts Backyard Kiwi, one of many of the groups and individuals working to achieve the Northland Kiwi Coast organisation’s vision of flourishing wildlife, especially kiwi, roaming freely in the landscape, nurtured and cared for by local people.
While their to-do lists include pest control – trapping and poisoning possums, stoats, rats, feral cats, as well as dealing to weeds; and propagation and planting of native trees and other flora, the every-day mantra in this part of the country is ‘don’t let the dogs out’. Todd, himself a proud dog owner, says this is because uncontrolled dogs are the biggest cause of premature death of adult kiwi in Northland. “Any uncontrolled dog, whether it’s a miniature cockapoo, a farm dog or a big old hound can kill a kiwi – just like that,” he says. “Kiwi are ground-dwellers, they smell just like a puppy which makes them very appealing to dogs.” Being flightless birds, kiwi have weaker chest muscles and the breastbone is delicate – “any dog can kill a kiwi with just a gentle shake”.
Backyard Kiwi has a catchy ‘Take the Lead’ campaign, emulated by other groups in the Kiwi Coast fold. In an engaging video, dog owners are asked to always have their dog on a lead when they are out, including when they are walking them, to tie them up at night or otherwise secure them.
The video includes Backyard Kiwi’s key annual event of releasing young kiwi back into farmland at Whangarei Heads. This popular event attracts upwards of 400 locals and is when the birds receive a karakia as they head off to establish their new territory. Also featured in the video is local artist and author Heather Hunt’s ‘scratchy’ kiwi character. Check out the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Joxjm4NhTBY
“Kiwi don’t just live in the bush. They are in paddocks, gorse, pampas grass, pine forest and inevitably in the road verges, so motorists also need to be on the lookout,” says Todd.
In many parts of Northland, in particular the Whangarei Heads peninsula, possum numbers are lower than historically thanks to dedicated trapping networks that often include a professional trapper who also coordinates volunteers, as well as supporting landowners. “Stoats are the number one killer of kiwi chicks, so we work hard to control them through trapping and secondary poisoning pulses.
“Kiwi and other birdlife are thriving because of the success of our pest control over the years and our flora benefit too. The summer spectacle up this way of flowering pohutukawa would not be what it is if possum ran rampant.”
As awareness and engagement builds throughout Northland, councils and developers are also supportive in lots of ways, including more recently placing protective covenants in new subdivisions where intending home buyers cannot own dogs or cats.
A Kiwi Coast trustee and voice of the many Northland farmers engaged in management and restoration, is Jane Hutchings. She and husband Roger have a dairy farm near Kerikeri, a town that is expanding due to its popularity with young families, retirees, city escapees and life-stylers, as well as being a favourite holiday spot. The couple have organized a pest control Puketotara Landcare Group of farming neighbours and others in the area. They now protect an area that covers more than 5,000 hectares.
One of the Hutchings’ happiest places is leaning over a fence surrounding native bush on their dairy farm to listen in to the soundtrack of kiwi calling out to each other. “We have kiwi, many of them, right here on our farm. Kiwi and other native birdlife can be found throughout our productive landscapes here in Northland where they’re eating the worms and insects that are prolific in our pastures,” says Jane.
She adds Kiwi Coast welcomes volunteers to help with annual counts. “Be prepared though, to be out on chilly and dark winter evenings, but there’s now an app to help with accurate counts”. Jane says Kiwi Coast’s farmer champions, as landowners, are vital in the protection and awareness work. “We find that when others in the community see farmers are involved, they want to help too.” She says kiwi can do well on farms, and having kiwi living and breeding on their farm is inspiring.
“Many farmers have fenced bush, wetlands and stream margins to exclude stock, which helps protect native flora and fauna habitats. And farms can be safe places for kiwi because farmers control their dogs to protect their stock. We’re blessed that many people in Northland have the same passion to protect kiwi and our other native species.” Also flourishing in the region covered by Kiwi Coast are pateke – the brown teal duck that is New Zealand’s rarest duck.
The Kiwi Coast organisation is made up of some 150 entities, ranging from community-led groups including farmers, lifestyle block and other landowners, landcare groups, schools, iwi and hapu, along with the Department of Conservation, Northland agencies and businesses such as forestry companies. Collectively they look after 200,000ha stretching from the Aupouri Peninsula in the north to Mangawhai Heads in the southern region of Northland, including the Whangarei Heads peninsula.
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Showdown Productions Ltd. Rural Delivery Series 16 2021