Kiwi Conservation Taranaki

July 2011

Dairy farmers work to protect the kiwi

How dairy farmers and Red Devon specialists Karen and Bob Schumacher bought a little patch of bush which has led to a 13,000ha project to protect kiwi on farmland and bush at Purangi in eastern Taranaki.

Bob is on the Executive Committee of the Indigenous Section of NZ Farm Forestry Association

Karen is the president of the NZ Red Devon Cattle Breeders Association

Karen also used to be on the Taranaki Wanganui Conservation Board, and chaired it for her last term.

Bob has been dairy farming for 30 years. The dairy farm at Inglewood is 105ha, and we used to say it was a 200 cow farm: you would start off the season with 215 and by December be milking 200 cows. Now we lease it out.

We stopped milking five years ago and went to drystock and did dairy grazing and got into Red Devons.

You can’t push young stock, especially other people’s stock when you are grazing them. And you need something to clean up the bits and pieces. I had quite an interest in Red Devons. One of the key things which attracted me was their temperament. As our environmental project was growing I was doing a lot of the beefy work, so it’s important to have stock with good temperament. The bulls are superb and safe.

We only have 17 Red Devon cows now, and they are all out at the bush block. We had to cull a lot two years ago when our environmental project increased to 13,000ha. Something had to give.

So that’s when we decided to lease most of the home farm out, we quit dairy grazing and the Red Devons went to Purangi. We kept 4ha at home for making conventional bales and for bringing the girls home to calve. They are autumn calvers.

We have two bulls and they are used by a dairy farmer to put over heifers. He has been doing that now for four years instead of using a Jersey bull.

We always wanted to have bush that we could put a QEII National Trust covenant on and give a bit back. It’s all very well talking but you have to give.

We looked for 18 months until we found this block of 192ha in 2001. There is only 20ha of grazing on it, the rest is bush, and there is 35ha of plantation forestry.

We immediately got hold of Neil Phillips from the QEII National Trust and put a covenant on the main bush block.

The fencing of it was huge – it took one winter and 5km of fencing – and staying out here we heard kiwi.

We thought we had to do something about this. The first bird we found Titoko, was in the scrub; so we threw a 30 trap line around him. Then we found kiwi everywhere through the property, and realized we might have to do more.

My background is as a chartered accountant and I used to do project plans. So we did a project plan, went to the Biodiversity Fund, and that was the start of our project.

We found that every time we went to Purangi people stopped us and asked us how the kiwi were doing.

The locals were really keen, so we decided to grow the project. We were strongly of the opinion that if we have public money, it must be accountable.

They set up a trust, carefully choosing practical commonsense trustees who are all still on board. It’s the East Taranaki Environmental Trust.

At that stage we grew the project from 192ha to 3000ha, and all the locals came on board, including owners of multiple-owned Maori land and absentee forestry owners.

The Regional Council came on board, and we did an initial aerial 1080 knockdown, that gave us breathing space. We went back to the Biodiversity Fund and they supported us in developing a network of traps using all of the DoC based products.

Our objective was to protect the kiwi that were there and make sure they were safe. We are all governed by the national kiwi recovery plan.

For a sustainable genetically diverse population you need about 500 pairs.

DoC has mainland island sanctuaries around the country, but there are none in Taranaki.

In Taranaki in the last five years birds have been disappearing, for example the Awakino population has gone. We were just in time with our birds.

We thought about the 500 pairs, got a map out and wondered about the bush next door. We did a proper formal feasibility study, which the Regional Council again supported. We got Wildlands to do a formal proposal to see if it was doable.

So we then increased the project by 10,000ha, and that went operational just over 12 months ago.

We have 1300 stoat boxes. We are due to do another call survey in May 2011. In 2007 over 3000ha, there were 87 calls recorded, and in 2009 and in the same sites there were 161 calls.

We can’t run kiwi through a set of yards. We can only monitor the trend. Darren Peters DoC’s national pest advisor is our guru; he is awesome. He advised us the population should double every six years.

And our aim is roadkill. One of the farmers in the project said the sign of success to him is when you get roadkill. And we’ve got our first in the last month on the Matau saddle.

Where there is live stock there is dead stock.

All the locals are recording more kiwi.

In our 92ha we can name and sight about 14 kiwi.

We have one, Maru, with a transmitter on it, and are getting more in autumn.

One of the issues for NZ is cost: there is not a lot of money in the conservation bucket. Some of the fenced projects have an annual operating cost of $250-$350/ha/year.

Our costs for our project are $26/ha/year. Every month we buy 160 dozen eggs for the traps.

This bucket is not very big, so how do we get the best value for money?

We don’t have overheads: in the last calendar year the value of in-kind contributions including volunteer time was $71,000 and another $30,000 cash was donated to the trust.

For example the National Bank rural team donated a day of their time to working here; DoC donates, the local Lions club donate.

(Bob and Karen might not tell you this but Bob works almost fulltime on the project and donates most of his pay back to the Trust.)

Karen is employed 20 hours a week to do fund raising, administration and maintain the volunteer base. She runs the Trust on a budget of $300,000.

“For our project we say kiwi are an indicator species; we consider we are in the ecosystem landscape management business. Part of that is people. We have to factor people into it: kiwi live on farms and in plantation forests. We have to bring everyone on board.

We also have NZ falcon breeding, fernbirds, tui, robins, whiteheads, kereru, riflemen. Our next stage is a target by 2013 to bring kokako back.

The biggest thing is the locals: the locals own it. It is their kiwi project.”

There are 10 contractors who work for the Trust. Six are members of one family, the “A team”, who are on a local sheep and beef property which neighbours the project.

Between them since the start of the project in 2005 they have checked more than 400 stoat boxes a month.

Five are children whose names all start with A, and they are either working on the project now, or have. They are employed by the trust. The oldest is now at Teachers College and she still checks boxes when at home.

Alan, one of the A team children at Matau, is now a fully fledged trapper.

When we started he was too young to be allowed to trap. He was initially given a line along the road.

We have recently developed a track to open to the public. A local tour group company will be bringing people to look at the project.

And they also now have three little blocks of bush on their home farm protected by covenant.

Karen also co-ordinates a whio/blue duck project outside of Mt Taranaki. There are eight streams coming off the mountain in the whio area, and DoC trap inside the park boundary but the birds kept coming down the river.

So now along nine roads to the park and 5km down each road, and two rivers, locals check almost 500 stoat boxes to help protect whio.

The locals are volunteers and check the boxes once a month. Whio need 50km of river habitat under protection to enable a sustainable population.

So once a month Karen spends a day delivering eggs to the volunteers.

People own the project, Karen says. “They know they are making a difference.”

People now see stoats. We have had farmers stalk stoats across farm paddocks.

It has changed people’s farming practices: for example a farmer recently putting a culvert in rang to ask if it would upset the kiwi.