Your say on sanctuaries

We asked for feedback on the “Both sides of the fence” article by David Brooks about fenced sanctuaries in the May Forest & Bird magazine.

We received so many letters and emails that we didn’t have space to publish every letter or every word in the August Forest & Bird magazine. Here is all the feedback.

Fencing founder

Thank you for your excellent May Issue, which raised several crucial issues for conservation. As the person who started the fenced sanctuary concept, I feel I should correct some misconceptions about fences.

The Lincoln researcher’s cost accountant approach is fundamentally flawed because it implies that fencing and bait/trap operations offer nearly equal outcomes. This is absolutely not the case. Fencing achieves biodiversity outcomes (sustainable populations of the most sensitive threatened species and near-complete ecosystem restoration over time), which are orders of magnitude over what bait/trap can ever achieve and which can match those achieved on off shore islands. The bonus for fences even over islands is that they can make protected areas accessible and can act as a nursery to repopulate large areas of surrounding habitat.

Even the most intense bait/trap operations will sustain only a very few of the more robust threatened species such as kiwi, kākā and kōkako, and even then their recovery will be slow and they will be constantly at risk from continually invading predators.  Moreover, this intense effort must be maintained forever, with bait and trap shyness and worker fatigue inevitable in due course.

Zealandia/Karori Sanctuary has proven that fencing works anywhere as it now has an abundance and variety of species, probably unmatched in any other square mile of mainland New Zealand. Despite being in the middle of a major city and having distinct physical limitations (small, elongated shape, depleted vegetation, chilly) it has in just 10 years established sustainable populations of more than 40 threatened species, many of which are ultra-sensitive to predation. No DOC mainland island has come near that record. And fencing is new. No project has had time to reach its carrying capacity so we have barely even begun to see what they will be able to achieve in the long term.

Moreover, from an exceptionally low base, populations of the more robust common birds have mushroomed throughout Wellington city from the sanctuary’s halo/nursery effect and co-ordinated citywide management, belying accusations that fenced areas are merely zoos. Wellington now hosts approximately 180 kākā, which happily forage throughout the city’s parks and gardens. All are descended from nine captive reared birds released a mere six years ago. That’s extraordinary productivity, which vastly exceeds any intensively managed mainland site. All this is possible only because of a fence. This halo effect multiplies the area that benefits from the fence probably by as much as 10 times the fenced area.

DOC’s intensively managed areas are valuable sites doing a great job but are themselves mere postage stamps in a vast unmanaged ecosystem with very little of the nursery/halo effect. They are proving difficult to sustain and DOC has even had to resort to captive rearing of kiwi chicks in fenced areas to build populations. Bait/trap operations will recover more robust common species but that is a lot of expense and effort for a few more pigeons and bellbirds.

Fences do have obvious limitations – capital cost, maintenance, vulnerability to mice, the need to (as with islands) monitor and deal with incursions – but overall they cannot be matched for the sheer magnitude of the outcomes they can provide.

Accusations that sanctuaries take money from other conservation work are well off the mark. None of Karori’s funding would ever have gone to bait/trap operations and it has attracted millions of dollar’ worth of new money to the wider conservation cause by raising awareness and converting potential new donors. Karori has a substantial economic spin-off for the city by creating millions of dollars’ worth of economic activity each year through jobs, local purchases and attracting visitors and it is an invaluable educational and community activity asset. Wellington City Council understands that we are doing public good on its land and has been prepared to invest in it.

I agree that there are probably ill-considered projects being attempted around the country that may well have difficulties in future. When I conceived the sanctuary, I imagined there would be perhaps as few as six, that they would be smallish scale (maximum 3/400 hectares), they would be community/public partnerships close to large and supportive populations, and they would have multiple goals and a broad-value case. These projects must have a “mother ship” from the start to help ensure their viability. Too many of them have been led into a dark corner by fencing companies trying to generate business or have simply bitten off more than they can chew. Fencing is by no means the best option in every case.

I can’t speak for other projects but Karori’s fence is immense value for money on a range of counts. Many people would agree that our city would be much poorer without it and it has helped us make a priceless discovery: that we can recover a little something of old New Zealand on the mainland, even in the middle of a city.


James R Lynch, Wellington





Orokonui’s wider gains


It is fair enough for Forest & Bird magazine to question the cost-effectiveness of predator-fenced sanctuaries, but the May 2011 article based on the Scofield, Cullen and Wang study takes a simplistic look at the issue. Like biodiversity itself, nature conservation will always rely on diverse approaches, and inevitably it will benefit from advances in technology.  Bearing in mind comparisons can be downright misleading, fenced sanctuaries are going to cost more than most mainland trap/poison operations, though not necessarily more than the creation of sanctuaries on remote islands.

On behalf of Orokonui Ecosanctuary, a 307-hectare forested haven for wildlife on the outskirts of Dunedin, I should like to fill in the picture a bit, beyond simply the costs of establishment and operation. Orokonui, at present, is the largest forested valley project of its kind in the South Island, protecting an area a quarter larger than Zealandia with a fence close to nine kilometres long. It opened in October 2009. Thanks to canny southern instincts when it comes to spending money, our project has an asset value of $5.7 million, a surprisingly small sum given the length of fence, the award-winning visitor centre, a workshop, plant and equipment, and an impressive network of walking tracks.

A small army of volunteers has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in the cost of ecological restoration and track construction. Besides reintroducing kākā, saddlebacks, robins, fernbirds (of their own accord), jewelled geckos and (provisionally) tuatara, Orokonui is fostering a satellite breeding population of the most endangered of all kiwi, Haast tokoeka. Other species are in the pipeline. Restoration will take many years.

But whereas restoration within the fence is the primary objective, it is only part of our story. In the long run, we expect conservation gains beyond the fence. Right now we have predator control work going on in our immediate buffer area, and there is an offer from Dunedin City Council of a tract of neighbouring land containing a substantial mature podocarp forest.  It would more than double the area we manage but we are unlikely to fence it in the near future, if ever. It could well lend itself to mainland island predator treatment, especially in the era of new-generation, resetting traps. 

Picture a fenced forest hub combining with a friendly wildlife corridor to give some of our special and spectacular native birds a springboard for exploring suburban areas. Orokonui kākā, in particular, have been seen in nearby rural settlements. Studies that simplistically compare fenced sanctuaries with other methods of nature conservation might begin to look underdone, if not pointless. 

Then there is our advocacy role. As the biodiversity flagship project for Otago, we are building an interest in nature conservation in our region through education and public awareness programmes that operate on a number of fronts – a schools programme (visits and outreach), a seasonal array of workshops and seminars at our centre of learning/visitor centre (which won a NZ Institute of Architects national award this year for sustainable architecture), and an annual series of big-idea talks held in the city, called the Orokonui Landmark Lectures.  Through all this we hope to expand public support for nature conservation, at a time when the government appears to be downgrading its own support.

Our sanctuary also provides multiple opportunities for hands-on conservation work – a direct connection with individuals and organisations in local communities. We are grateful for the support of the Forest & Bird Dunedin branch. Interaction with runanga holding manawhenua in our area is vital. Weaving workshops will be resourced in the future by a multi-variety flax plantation (Pa Harakeke) that has been established close to the visitor centre but outside the fence.

Now try to put a dollar figure on all of this conservation activity?

Neville Peat, Chairman, Otago Natural History Trust, Dunedin



Iwi relations

Your magazine recently ran an article criticising fenced sanctuaries as being "expensive zoos". I am sure many of your readers will seek to refute that, but I would add that fenced sanctuaries are also becoming the vehicle for Māori political ambitions, especially with regard to control of measures to conserve threatened species.

The Maungatautari case is well documented. Less well-known is the recent coercion of the Otago Natural History Trust (ONHT) - which governs Orokonui Ecosanctuary - by members of local iwi Kati Huirapa Runaka ki Puketeraki to provide as of right a seat on the ONHT board of trustees.

 Since 2004, the ONHT constitution has allowed for six trustees, elected by the membership. This constitution was unanimously endorsed by the membership at the 2009 AGM. Following the 2011 AGM, however, where Kati Huirapa failed to nominate a candidate for election to the board, a threat of withdrawal of iwi support resulted in the immediate resignation of an elected trustee to enable the iwi candidate to be appointed to fill the vacancy.

 The OHNT board has now decided to amend the constitution - "in recognition of the status of Kati Huirapa Runaka ki Puketeraki in exercising mana whenua over the area in which the Orokonui Ecosanctuary is located" - to enable the Runaka to appoint a trustee independent of the democratic process.

 Kati Huirapa, along with Te Rünanga o Makaawhio, also forced the ONHT to “acknowledge the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi” as a condition for the translocation of Haast tokoeka to Orokonui Ecosanctuary. One could ask what the relevance is of that requirement to the conservation of this critically endangered species. The protocol that included this clause was signed by the chair of the ONHT without the board having seen, let alone discussed, the document and its implications. 

Many people with Māori ancestry consider native biota as a resource, either culinary or commercial, rather than espousing the conservation ethic of intrinsic value. Nothing wrong with that, perhaps, except where it impinges on the operation of fenced sanctuaries, established by local communities of people concerned only for the welfare of NZ’s native flora and fauna. The increasing awareness among iwi of the success of such sanctuaries, and the increasing pressure to use them as a political tool, must be resisted.

Ralph Allen, Orokonui Ecosanctuary founder, Dunedin




Southern success

I am involved with Orokonui Ecosanctuary, in Dunedin. It is a wonderful and inspiring project for our city. I am retired and it is sociable and useful to join a group of volunteers regularly weeding and planting at the sanctuary.

Of course there is always the necessity to raise money, but the ideas generated are stimulating conservation across the city. We recently had a Landmark Orokonui lecture at the university and a large lecture theatre was practically full.  All those people were learning more about the environment and conservation etc.

Also, seeing birds in greater numbers increases people's awareness that areas outside the sanctuary need predator control too.

There is now a group of volunteers working around the perimeter of the fence to do predator control.  The ultimate vision is to spread this work to neighbouring patches of bush and also encourage revegetation.

It is wonderful to see the classes of school children coming in regularly for educative field trips and groups of students who come and do their bit to help. Seeing the bush regrowth, particularly of the understorey, is a lesson in how all the undergrowth in bush should be growing.

Of course we need to do predator control in and outside fences. Let us continue to do both and as much as we can.

As Sir Paul Callaghan said at our Orokonui lecture, let us have a great vision for the whole of NZ to be predator free so why not start next with the whole of Stewart Island!

Keep up the good work.

Terisha Hubbard, Dunedin




Both play a part

From the figures quoted in the article, it seems self-evident that mainland islands are far more economic as conservation projects than predator-proof fenced areas.

I visit both Zealandia and Boundary Stream mainland island and enjoy both, but I must admit it is far easier to see birds at Zealandia than in Boundary Stream, so both have a part to play in educating the public.

Fenced sanctuaries need to have an assured source of private funding.

 Margaret Gwynn, Napier



Driving Creek a nursery

The smaller the area that vermin-proof fences enclose, the easier and more practical they are to monitor for any form of damage.  I would suggest that the labour, transport and expertise to maintain such a fence is in geometric rather than arithmetic proportion to its length. So, a 10km fence could require about 100 times more cost to maintain than a 1km fence, especially if the land is steep.  Storms often happen at night, making it difficult for staff to access the damage and then to repair it before vermin, not so bothered about comfort and desperately searching for food, move in with alacrity.

At Driving Creek Wildlife Sanctuary (a charitable trust) we have a 500-metre fence enclosing 1.7 hectares.  Its route was chosen with care for easy surveillance and maintenance. Our small size renders the area too small to accommodate, for instance, kiwi and other wide territory-demanding birds.  But then we need to think of the huge range of other endangered species as well as birds:  insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles and other invertebrates that were once part of our unique ecosystem. 

I regard our sanctuary – the only fenced one on the Coromandel Peninsula that could cater for them – as a kind of nursery in which endangered species can at least be raised and cared for, before release into much larger unfenced but well-trapped and poison-monitored adjacent areas such as those maintained by the Moehau Environment Group and the Whenuakite Landcare Group. 

Hats off to Maungatautari Sanctuary project.  I shudder to think of their maintenance costs.  How can we help them?

Barry Brickell, Coromandel




Research stymied

During my time on the Forest & Bird Executive, I was a lonely voice, saying that predator fencing was costly and a drain on research to find a solution to eliminate predators from New Zealand.

I was well aware that Australia would object to genetic manipulation of possums. By eliminating mustelids by the same method, rats would have a field day.

The financial drain on maintaining these sanctuaries stymies research on a solution. Having said all that, I have been trapping on my property since the 1960s. No end is in sight.

Henk Heinekamp, Stoke




Trapping gets harder

David Brooks, in his slightly one-sided “Both Sides of the Fence” article, failed to point out that the inherent disadvantage of a non-fenced mainland island sanctuary is that the closer the sanctuary gets to predator-free status, the less effective any trapping regime becomes. Once the ground is teeming with large insects, snails, lizards and ground-nesting/roosting birds (even bellbirds have chosen to nest on or near the ground in the short time they have been at Zealandia), there is no need for a mammalian predator to risk taking dead and often stale bait while surrounded by an abundance of juicy live food.

Ron Goudswaard, Wellington



Selective use of fences

The fenced sanctuary is one of a large range of conservation techniques. It is distinguished from most techniques by its large capital and depreciation costs and expensive ongoing operational costs. It is probably the most expensive conservation technique per hectare available. Its use, accordingly, should be very selective, especially with reducing resources across the board for conservation.

The fenced sanctuary has become a goal in itself. This has led to much confusion and the misallocation of scarce resources to often low-priority sites and low conservation goals. The goal has become to build the fence and then figure out what is to be achieved within it. This is a very poor approach to conservation.

To me, a fenced sanctuary has only two valid purposes. The first purpose is to protect one or more species that cannot be protected any other way. This purpose would likely only apply very rarely and to relatively small areas because of the high cost involved. It is difficult to imagine a situation where the only option to protect a species is a fenced sanctuary but there may be a few.

The second purpose is to re-create a higher-quality conservation area at a site to show the public what has been lost due to the absence of proper conservation management in most of New Zealand.

The education sites, to be effective, would need to be near the largest population centres and relatively large to be able to contain the habitat of species the public would relate to particularly for their beauty.

The problem with using a fenced sanctuary for education purposes is that the result cannot be reproduced elsewhere except with another expensive sanctuary. It would be much more effective to use cheaper conservation techniques to show significant gains that could be transferred widely, eg more resources for aerial 1080 over large degrading forests.

It is said that resources made available by private and public sources for fenced sanctuaries would not be available for general conservation and so are extras. This may be true especially of private resources but I believe government resources may have been secured for higher-priority general conservation. This may have occurred because the public would not have been fed a plethora of good news stories and come to believe real general conservation progress was being achieved through fenced sanctuaries when it clearly was not. It is likely the government actually prefers the one-off nature of fences to avoid the necessary ongoing resources to properly manage public conservation land.

I predict that most fenced sanctuaries will fail due to their costs and a loss of local leadership drivers. Government will not and should not continue to fund them due to their low priority and the massive losses continuing apace in the majority of conservation lands.      

Bill Carlin, Auckland   



A hybrid approach

The idea of a fenced sanctuary is very appealing – create a pest-proof barrier, remove all the pests and you are left with an environment that can be restored to something like NZ was before humans arrived, without the need for constant pest control. As the article points out, it's not as simple as that.

Pros of fences:

In an unfenced sanctuary, even with intensive trapping or poisoning there is a chance a stoat could slip through and do some damage. This is much less likely with a fenced barrier. This makes fenced sanctuaries better for protecting high-risk species. Would you put a kākāpō inside Maungatautari or Ark in the Park?

They are suitable for protecting small, well-defined areas. Maungatautari is probably at the practical size limit of a fenced sanctuary.

They are good for protecting peninsulas since a short length of fence can help protect a relatively large area, eg- Tawharanui and Shakespear regional parks.

They greatly reduce or eliminate the need for recurring trapping or poisoning operations.

They create a tangible barrier the public can identify with, and could be a good tourist destination. 

Cons of fences:

They are very expensive to build and require ongoing maintenance to ensure they are in good condition. I've often wondered how these sanctuaries will be sustainable for decades or hundreds or thousands of years. The money might be better spent on protecting larger areas using traps and poisons.

They are not a perfect barrier, for example, mice can be carried over the fence by birds (moreporks, harriers). This means constant monitoring and clean-up operations inside the sanctuary if pests are found. In which case why bother with a fence in the first place?

They are not suitable for areas prone to flooding or slips.

They are not suitable for protecting large environments or zones within a larger continuous area such as Ark in the Park within the Waitakere Ranges.

They have fixed boundaries so the protected area cannot be moved or expanded without building another fence.

There is the risk of the fence being breached by trees falling on them, landslides, floods, not to mention tornados and earthquakes. One solution is to build a double fence, so if the outer fence is damaged the inner still maintains the barrier. Or by dividing the sanctuary into compartments, so if one section is breached the whole ship is not sunk. All those extra fences add to the maintenance burden.

Fences risk vandalism or sabotage.

Fenced sanctuaries are not the magic bullet for pest control but they are a useful option once everything is considered. They have a place and, now we have them, let's see how they go and what we can learn from them. Maybe for some places a hybrid approach would be better, with a cheaper fence for keeping out larger animals – deer, pigs, goats – and trapping and poisons for the possums, rats, mice and stoats.

Roland Vink, Auckland  




All conservation valuable

Some fellow Wellington conservationists envy Zealandia/Karori Sanctuary’s funding. Conservation is woefully under-resourced in “clean, green” New Zealand. However there’s no magic set conservation funding level. Funding is about political and community priorities. Conservation competes against all other draws on rate/taxpayers. The real issue is those who don’t care about and won’t support or protect our environment.

In Wellington city we’ve achieved an enormous amount for conservation in the last 20 years. There’s still much to do, but we’ve doubled the extent of our reserve network, have comprehensive pest management and revegetation programmes, some 60 community environmental care groups, our first marine reserve, and the fenced Karori Sanctuary.

I was a foundation trustee and I am now a guardian. Living adjacent, I hear kiwi as I write. Kākā and tūī (over a dozen at once in our tree this week) are daily visitors, and we’ve enjoyed kākāriki, ruru and even kārearea from our house.

The sanctuary is relatively expensive for a conservation project. The ambition to be self-sustaining is challenging. However, many other council supported projects are more expensive per visitor.

The sanctuary delivers conservation, educational, community participation and research benefits. If it didn’t exist, I suspect many of our 400-plus volunteers wouldn’t be involved in conservation. I’m sure little, if any of the council, government, private or philanthropic money invested would have gone into conservation, either. I say we should celebrate all conservation efforts – whether by DOC, Forest & Bird, volunteer groups, councils or sanctuaries – to save and restore our unique environments for future generations and for their own intrinsic value.

Andy Foster, Wellington City Councillor


Karori’s changing focus

My partner and I were early members of the Zealandia/Karori Sanctuary project – planting seedlings and clearing ground for the fence before it went up. Over the last few years we have seen it shift from a largely volunteer base to an organisation with an increasing emphasis on the importance of branding and capture of the Wellington visitor dollar – an inevitable outcome when obtaining private and public sector sponsorships to build a very expensive visitor centre.

I think fenced sanctuaries are a good showcase opportunity, particularly where they are easily accessible by large numbers of people (like Zealandia).

Who should pay? The users, the local community and, if there is national or international significance in the species involved, the taxpayer.

Better outcomes from intensive pest control in unfenced areas are likely, particularly as technology and improved adaptive management processes evolve over time. Remote island species rescues have been very successful and evidence building for mainland islands projects would seem to support intensive pest control (which usually accepts some predator presence) approach.

A combination of strategies is probably best for the long-term future. I am always very mindful of the fact that NZ/Aotearoa has the luxury of being wealthy relative to many other countries where biodiversity is rapidly declining. The more we can come up with low-cost solutions, the more we can export those ideas. I doubt there will be many, if any, predator-proof fence projects going on among our Pacific neighbours.

I think it’s good that this area is being subject to academic review and I look forward to tracking down and reading a copy of the upcoming journal article referred to in the latest issue of Forest & Bird.

Clive Hellyar, Wellington