Biodiversity Southland

November 2007
This project focuses on protection of biodiversity/native vegetation on private land as part of good sustainable land management. It is a good news story that has received little publicity but deserves it particularly because some of these vegetation types are under increasing pressure from development and intensification of farming practices. Put bluntly, there are more and more dairy conversions happening on the plains and this land is seen as more economical to develop than to conserve.

Janet Gregory, of New Zealand Landcare Trust, coordinates the Biodiversity Southland forum, which includes representatives of Environment Southland, Invercargill City Council, Southland District Council, QE II National Trust, Department of Conservation, and Federated Farmers.

Janet helps farmers and community groups through providing advice and support in preparing funding applications so landowners can fence off areas of native bush, learn more about what is in them and manage weeds and pests. Other agencies help with the management side.

In the past four years 24 landowners have been helped to get funding assistance from the Biodiversity Condition Fund (DOC) ranging from $1,600 $40,000. Projects have included fencing of forest, wetlands, tussock areas, shrub areas, and riparian areas alongside rivers, control of weeds and pests, and restoration through planting. These projects are throughout the Southland region, and in some cases landowners are now working together to form landcare groups. Some friendly rivalry has developed My native bush contains more endangered species than yours!

Although the Catlins area is quite different in topography from the plains, the same issues are present and there are remnants of bush that are worth preserving. Much of the bush has been cut over or milled for timber, and much has been grazed by farm livestock as well as deer and possums. However, there are still many patches of bush that are worth conserving fencing off and elimination or control of non-native species so that in time they will revert to a near natural state.

The two farms featuring in the item show the state of bush remnants now after past milling and the predations of livestock and possums. The surrounding Catlins Forest Park and the penguin colony show what the whole area was once like.

Janet says that similar schemes are in operation in other regions, and people can find out more from and

Allan & Kath Marshall

A sheep/beef farm of 930 ha, of which 40 ha is in bush. Terrain ranges from flat to steep with most of it gently rolling. The Waikawa river runs right through the middle.

They have a shorthorn stud, 65 cows plus replacement heifers, and 20 two-year-old bulls are supplied to dairy farmers. Allan buys back and rears the progeny, and Kath rears 80 calves each year. In addition they run 5400 ewes, 600 in-lamb hoggets and 600 dry hoggets, and 260 yearling cattle and 120 crossbreed cows, 50 two-year-old fattening heifers and 30 two-year-old bulls. The stud was started by Allans father and has been going 43 years.

Allans interest in the biodiversity project arose because there were a couple of really significant stands of kowhai the farm that he thought really should be protected, and they were up on a hill which is unusual. In spring they are full of wood pigeons, bellbirds, tui, fantails and tomtits.

Also, one time when a DOC conservator was doing a species count in bush on the property he came across some significant stands of endangered species, particularly Olearia fragrantissima and other Olearia species, along with mistletoe and holly. Also of significance were the forest edge plants when the forest is cleared farmers naturally start at the edge and work their way in, and when they stop that then becomes the bush edge, but it is a totally different set of species.

I had been talking to another couple of farmers in the Landcare group down here, and they said there was money available for fencing if we had something of significance to preserve. So I contacted Janet Gregory and she had a look and felt it was well worth the effort and that it was very special, says Allan.

You can do all sorts of things to make a farm look good, but if you preserve the natural things on it they have an intrinsic value and improve the appearance anyway. Working with biodiversity funding is good because it means that other people share in the cost as well as the benefit. For small blocks in the middle of the farm being able to fence them and retain title is more appropriate than putting a covenant on them.

Between 40 and 50 ha of Allan and Kaths property will be fenced off, perhaps involving 10-12km of fencing. Funding has now been approved and some of the fenceline cleared. Construction of the fence will be spread over four years.

Over the past 20 years Allan has fenced off and planted the river bank. He has used a single electric wire to keep cattle away but allow sheep to graze because he believes that short grass, along with the planted trees, helps stabilise the bank. Since he has done that, he says, there has been far less change in the course of the river and far less erosion.

He is now keen to plant more kowhai by the river, and once the hill remnants are fenced off the seedling kowhai will grow and be available for transplanting.

Maurice Yorke

Maurice and Marie farm some 1300ha of fairly hilly country, running 7000 sheep and 950 cattle. Maurice has lived there all his life, and his father worked in the timber mills in the early days to help make ends meet.

My dad was criticised for running cattle in the bush, but we were poor and people didnt seem to understand that we had to make a living. One day he was talking with the stock agent and complaining that the cattle had disappeared into the bush, and the stock agent said You must hate the bush because you've been clearing it and burning it, says Maurice.

Dad was quite taken aback and said I love the bush and the trouble is the damn cows do too. I think that applied to the whole of the Catlins area, everybody had to make a living and but they still loved the bush.

Maurice was only eight at the time, but since then he has had a dream of being able to return some of the bush to its original condition. In 1984 he bought an adjoining property that also adjoined the penguin colony. He sold and donated two chunks of land to Forest & Bird, and set about trying to control the degradation of the remaining bush. That was difficult as the area was still being clear-felled and there were contracts to fulfil.

The first little piece that we rescued some time ago was on the Waikawa foreshore not far from our house. We fenced it off and put a bit of flax along the edge, says Maurice.

It regenerated pretty well but at that time we didn't realise the damage that the possums were doing, we thought it was domestic stock. We are in the buffer zone between the Catlins forest and open country and the authorities have done a marvellous job in controlling possums, but we don't know what is going to happen when the money is cut-off, it is quite scary.

Recently Maurice has been trying to preserve a small area of land close to the penguin reserve. It is quite rugged, and would have been too expensive for him to fence off, so Forest and Bird, the biodiversity group and the QE2 Trust have worked together to get a fence line round it. The fence line has been cleared, and the contractor will be coming soon.

Another block of 15-20ha is being vested in the QE2 Trust, and Maurice is looking at other patches of native bush up the stream that runs that starts in the Catlins forest park and runs through his property to the penguin reserve.

That is where the biodiversity people have got excited because we can join the patches of native bush all the way up. Some are fenced off properly, others have an electric fence to keep the cattle out, and some are unfenced and we are working towards fencing them all off properly, he says.

Its just as well this initiative has come along because at the rate I was going I would be 200 years old before it was all done.