Welcome sign for wildlife

Forest & Bird is trialling a new scheme to help landowners become front-line conservationists.

By Jolene Williams

There are 74 different plant species on Colin Merrin’s  Bay of Plenty property. It’s not bad for a dairy grazing  farm, which in theory needs only cows and grass to  make a profit.

Colin’s 240-hectare farm is interspersed with patches  of native bush. The forested areas are dotted around the farm and in various conditions.

The fenced bushy areas are doing well, with fl ourishing püriri trees and resident North
Island robins, kererü and fantails.

Colin has done a lot of conservation work already but  there’s potential to further improve his farm’s environmental scorecard.

And through Forest & Bird’s Land For Wildlife  (LFW) programme, he can undertake informed conservation work that positively contributes to nearby ecosystems and
the region’s biodiversity as a whole.

By joining LFW Colin has a ready supply of advice and  resources to help improve his farm’s ecological values, tailored to the needs and purposes of his land.

LWF is new to New Zealand, and is being piloted in part of the Bay of Plenty and Waikato. It’s designed to complement similar schemes run by other organisations  such as regional councils and New Zealand Landcare Trust, and is free and voluntary to join.

The programme works on a basis of mutual agreement where Forest & Bird offers the technical know-how and insider’s tips, and points out available resources.

LFW blows the old farming versus conservation argument right out of the water. Colin says fencing off the bush has already made it easier to manage stock.

Similarly, one of the recommended LFW strategies included planting flax on forest edges which, among other things, is “apparently good for stock to chew”.

LFW project manager Hamish Dean says it’s not just for  farmers. “It’s basically for all landowners who are already doing conservation work on their properties or are aspiring to
do so. They could be orchard owners, lifestyle block owners, schools, businesses, councils or sports clubs,” he says.

The combined effect could be a boon for the region  by linking habitats, cleaning waterways and supporting native wildlife.

Colin had already undertaken some conservation measures before signing up to LFW. But since joining, he’s  had extra guidance through Hamish’s property assessment.
The assessment details the current biodiversity on Colin’s farm and illuminates
areas for improvement.

Seventy four plant species were found  on the property, as well as 12  bird species, köura (freshwater crayfish) and cave wëtä.

Hamish’s report provides more than just a checklist of things to do. For example, it spells out different ways Colin can control  pests and why it’s advantageous to attack all species at once.

He suggests which types of possum traps are available, where to buy
them and how much they cost.

From a landowner’s perspective, the answers are right  there in black and white but it’s
up to individuals what advice is  followed and when.

Colin says that’s a major bonus for landowners because they have the freedom to do the work on their own terms.

Hamish says the programme will ultimately improve the regions’ biodiversity. “Some of our most threatened ecosystems are on private land so hopefully we can expand the network of protected and enhanced land outside the conservation estate.

“This will encourage more native birds and plants to farmlands, lowlands and orchards, and it could improve ecosystem services like water fi ltration and carbon sequestration,” he says.

The programme has already received fi nancial support from the government’s Biodiversity Advice Fund, WWFNew Zealand and Waikato Regional Council, and it’s hoped
it will take off in other regions.

LFW is based on the successful Australian programme that’s been running since 1981 and involves 13,300 properties. It came to Forest & Bird’s attention when former Society President Peter Maddison and his partner Eila Lawton stumbled across the programme while holidaying in Australia.

They broached the idea to Forest & Bird’s Kaimai Mamaku campaign steering committee, and after thorough investigation it was decided that LFW was a perfect, and
practical, fit.

Central North Island Field Officer Al Fleming says the programme can strengthen Forest & Bird’s current restoration work in the Kaimai Mamaku Ranges. “Land For Wildife can be a key programme in restoring ecological  corridors that link the Kaimai Range with the Tauranga  Harbour, and the Waihou River in the Waikato.