Tui to Town

July 2015

Promoting native plant diversity in wildlife corridors from rural to urban areas

Marlborough has been highly modified over the past 700 years. Maori fires cleared dryland forest vegetation in eastern areas, then European settlers cleared land and drained swamps to develop farms and continued burning. Many native bird species are extinct and others like tui, bellbird and kereru are confined to limited bush and planted habitats.

Tui live throughout New Zealand and breed in the Richmond Range about 10km north of Blenheim but few are seen on the Wairau Plain. They feed mainly on nectar, supplemented by fruit and insects. Outside their breeding season – from September to January – they travel up to 30km in search of food.

The Marlborough District Council runs the Tui to Town project towards meeting its Resource Management Act responsibility for promoting protection of significant natural areas and native biodiversity. The project offers grants for planting native trees and a website where people can register sightings of native birds. It began in 2008 as a five-year project for the Wairau Plains where only 1-2% of land cover is native vegetation, so there are few places where native birds can feed.

Last year after landowners showed interest, Tui to Town was extended further up the Wairau Valley and to areas around the townships of Seddon and Ward, south of of the Awatere River.

The Tui to Town project encourages the planting of new areas of native vegetation on private land, to provide stepping stones for native birds and insects. It is also raising awareness of native birds in lowland Marlborough and the threats they face.

People can apply for up to $1000 for the planting of at least 500 locally sourced native trees, shrubs and grasses on at least 1000 square metres of private land, at $1 per plant. These must grow naturally in the area so ‘outsiders’ such as kauri and pohutukawa are excluded. Landowners can do the planting and are responsible for ongoing maintenance.

Large projects can also be staged, funded up to the maximum amount, each year.

Environmental scientist Nicky Eade says Tui to Town is extending habitats for tui and other native birds such as bellbirds-kaikomako and kereru. So far the project has helped pay for the planting of 4 hectares of native plants across 40 sites on vineyards, farms, rural residential properties and at schools. About $40,000 has been spent so far with up to $10,000 allocated each year.

Tui to Town sites complement plantings on public reserve and river land.

The programme is also about raising awareness. Tui to Town has its own webpage where people can record native bird sightings which peaked in 2010, as people gained awareness of the programme. Flowering eucalypts which are not a native are the most popular perching spot for tui, attracted in by their nectar, followed by kowhai.

These birds can be in and around Blenheim from May until December.

While tui are not a threatened native species they are typical of New Zealand forest birds in that they require reasonable areas of native forest to thrive. As visible and charismatic birds, they are a suitable flagship species to encourage habitat restoration and also pest control.

Ninety-one-year-old Margaret Peace is a visionary who pioneered the planting of native species on the Wairau Plain, long before funding was available. Margaret moved to Tuamarina near Blenheim in the mid-1970s, planting a 700 square metre forest of locally sourced specimens in her garden. Later she formed the Tuamarina Landcare Group with a vision of transforming the weed-covered banks of Blind Creek behind her house into a native planting. The Marlborough District Council helped pay for the clearing of weeds and native seedlings including totara, kahikatea and rimu in 2007 and in 2012, took over maintenance.

As a life member of Forest & Bird, Margaret has been pleased to see the Marlborough District Council supporting the return of native plants to the Marlborough landscape where forests have been cleared and wetlands drained for farming and more recently, winegrowing.

Greg and Mel Hole and their children live at Hawkesbury, just outside Blenheim. Their 11.4 hectare block was part of a farm originally bought by Greg’s parents, David and Stephanie Hole and then subdivided.

The Holes have spread Tui to Town funding over four years, planting about 3500 native trees into their dry, rolling hill country. Three generations work together to plant the seedlings, then ensure their survival through ongoing weed control.

Areas where planting was planned were sprayed out with herbicide, Greg said. Follow-up spraying and cutting of broom and gorse was essential, as well as hand-watering when needed as no irrigation system has been installed.

About 85 to 90 per cent of seedlings planted have survived with kanuka, pittosporum and flaxes doing especially well.

Rewards are already being reaped with more sightings of native birds including tui for the first time this year as well as bellbirds, fantails and silvereyes. Flaxes have started flowering, drawing birds in, but kowhai are yet to bloom.

“Tui to Town helped drive our interest in native plantings,” Greg says. “Wanting to get plantings done while funding was available was a good motivator.”