Kiwi Friendly Farm

August 2011

A Landcare group in the Whangarei Heads is creating a kiwi-friendly environment

Whangarei Heads is an area where kiwi have been present in small numbers for as long as people can remember. In the last decade a local landcare group has worked with farmers to create a kiwi-friendly environment by controlling predators, fencing off bushland and wet areas, and keeping dogs under strict control. Along with reintroductions and monitoring their activities have seen kiwi numbers increase substantially. It is not so much about being kiwi friendly as farming well and being environmentally sustainable, which create a better habitat for most desirable species including kiwi and humans.

To make farms kiwi friendly farmers are advised to:

Tie up dogs during milking and at any other time when they are not working, and make sure they dont stray into reserves or fenced off areas where kiwi may be living or hiding

Keep pet dogs under similar control, and discourage visitors and the general public from taking dogs anywhere near places where kiwi may be.

Hire a professional to do stoat trapping, or get one to teach you how

Have a possum, rat and feral cat control programme that will enhance the survival prospects of all bird life.

Fence off bush, rough areas, swamps etc to provide shelter, cover, food and water for kiwi. Kiwi can travel long distances, so establish fenced corridors to provide cover.

Manage your soils well so that soil life is plentiful, which will provide bugs, worms and other food for kiwi.

Murray Jagger and his forbears have lived at Whangarei Heads for several generations. On their 550ha farm they run 560 Jersey dairy cows plus a dairy beef operation. Bordered by the sea on one side and a scenic reserve on the other with a second reserve close by, it is in a position where the wrong sort of management could kill off kiwi that have lived in the bush for countless generations.

The local community, says Murray, is very environmentally conscious and were always used to hearing kiwi call at night. About 10 years ago a community group, The Whangarei Heads Landcare Forum (WHLF), was set up to formalise protection and nurturing of kiwi in the area and to attract funding for predator control, re-introduction of kiwi, and to monitor population growth and health. Murray has worked with the group allowing them access through his property and managing it in a way that will support kiwi survival.

We have learnt a great deal about Kiwi since we have been involved with the program. They are very mobile birds they don't just spend a night in one spot but will travel for kilometres a night and will graze in open pastures. There has been a population here for a long time but not a large number mainly because of predators rats, stoats and weasels and it's only since the Landcare group started trapping and pest management that we have been able to start reintroducing them. They have survived and the numbers have grown annually.

Every year around June/July there is a kiwi count where people monitor kiwi for two hours over four nights in strategic places around the reserves and. They plot the male and female calls and their coordinates and use the information to work out what sort of numbers are present. In our vicinity I think at the last count there were about six or eight pairs.

We were initially asked because of our proximity to the reserve and the fact that we had management control of a long section of the reserve. On the opposite side of the mountain there are a lot of lifestyle blocks with dogs etc so our side was a lot more manageable.

We have made our farm more than just Kiwi friendly, it is environmentally friendly. The family has owned the farm for generations and historically the bush era was grazed and was considered a good place to stand the stock off in wet weather, but in the last 10 years that area has been fenced off completely to let it regenerate back to how it was. The cover has increased and now provides an environment that is more suitable for sustaining the kiwi population. Also we are not developing any more of that bush or rough country and in fact I'm looking at fencing blocks off now and planting natives to allow some islands or areas where birds like Kiwi can actually travel and stop, like a corridor.

The more you get involved with these birds the more you understand that they have to fit in socially. You can release a bird in an area and think that's a good environment for them but two or three days later it will appear kilometres away because it has been chased out by the dominant male. We have to let them manage themselves and live where they are happy living rather than expecting them to live where you put them.

We encourage the Landcare groups to carry on their trapping regime, my father has undertaken stoat trapping himself, and we manage our dogs very closely. Lack of dog control is what really endangers Kiwi. We don't let outside people on the property we used to let pig hunters on here years ago but we don't do that any more.

I have to say in support of 1080 poison that it is a very valuable tool in allowing the Kiwi program to start because it eliminated all the pests that were a threat to it but also eliminated the things that were a threat to the ecosystem itself, like pigs and goats. On the Bream Head reserve and Manaia reserve that was the big first step in eliminating major pests to allow the environment to regrow and to allow birds to establish, and now it helps keep the environment as it should be.

The payoff for me is social satisfaction. The kiwi is an iconic bird that we have taken for granted but now it gives us a buzz to be able to handle them and understand the way the birds work and operate and their lifestyle. Just to be involved with keeping numbers at a level that is going to be sustainable into the future, that is very satisfying.

We are playing a small part in it and you have to give credit to the Landcare groups and people like Todd Hamilton who have really supported and got behind this for the right reasons. We are just part of the chain that allows that to happen.

Probably because there are more kiwi around now there are more being killed on roads caught by dogs and whilst that is not ideal and people is that numbers are getting to a point where people are getting to see them more often. Everyday people are now able to hear and sometimes see a real-life Kiwi, which the majority of New Zealand population have never seen in the wild, so we are in a very unique and privileged position and we will encourage it as much as we can.

Todd Hamilton is an expert mustelid trapper and, together with his partner Helen Moodie, was instrumental in setting up the WHLF ten years ago.

The kiwi project started as a trapping exercise to get stoats under control, and kiwi numbers went up. Then they found dogs were a problem and so started monitoring kiwi and promoting good dog control on farms.

They currently have 19 volunteers going out at night for two hours recording kiwi counts and thus monitoring the success of the programme. Todd also monitors a sample of 12 kiwi that have had radio transmitters attached to their legs. This monitoring is funded by the Bank of New Zealand Save the Kiwi Trust and Lotteries Commission, trapping by the Governments Biodiversity Fund, and the Northland Regional Council.

Todd says that farmers are really supportive and give him unlimited access through farms.

Farmers enjoy being civic minded, being a bit patriotic and supporting our national icon. They are quite proud to have kiwi on their farms and it doesn't impinge on their farming system so in that sense they can have their cake and eat it too.

The main thing is dog control, which farmers are very good at once they recognise the need. One dairy farmer used to let his dogs run free during milking until one day one of the dogs came back with one of my traps on his toes and that showed he had been away in the bush, so they decided to tie them up at milking just commonsense stuff.

Pet dogs too farmers and lifestylers need to make sure they are not wandering. If you are fencing out the back paddock and the dog goes with you for company just make sure they don't wander into the scrub and gobble up a couple of kiwi.

The other thing to do is to farm well. If the soil is in good condition and the bugs are plentiful and there are plenty of worms then kiwi have something to eat. If you do have wetlands or wet spots or swamps, fence them off kiwi need a source of moisture in droughts. They also like any rough country that has been fenced off like bush, rank kikuyu areas, pine forests and even gorse and pampas grass.

Out here on the coasts it is not wall-to-wall farms we have the mosaic of pastoral farming, small forestry blocks, lifestylers, and that can make pest control more difficult. Controlling possums, stoats, rats, cats etc is good for birdlife and the environment.

Stoats used to take out around 90% of kiwi chicks but now we are getting much better survival rates around 50 to 60% according to DOC monitoring, so that's a quantum leap up. Dogs are now the priority for control. Kiwi live for up to 50 years and if a dog kills one you have potentially lost 50 years of breeding, and dogs will not just kill one or two but chase and kill all they can find. Farmers are good at keeping working dogs under control, and will often put up a sign on the fence saying Kiwi area, please keep dogs out aimed at the public.

For stoats it's a matter of having a program of trapping. Anybody can catch possums and rats but stoats are very sly and if you don't do it properly you end up with trap-shy stoats and you can go backwards. Some people try on their properties but they give up after a while because they get sick of pulling rats and hedgehogs out of the traps. Near enough isn't good enough you have put traps under cover where the stoats run and be really finicky with the setting the trigger. We use salted rabbit as a lure and that is pretty much the industry standard now.

The public really likes the idea that kiwi are being looked after, and the highest numbers of kiwi we monitor are invariably on farms, so that puts farmers in a good light and people are very supportive.