New Zealand’s native forests should be dark, with green shoots and seeds scattered across the forest floor and sunlight struggling to break through the dense canopy. They should also be extremely noisy; the birdsong deafening at dawn.
Sadly, most forests in Aotearoa are almost silent and our native birds are under constant threat from rats, possums, stoats and feral cats. But thanks to a group of hard-working and passionate volunteers, the Aongatete Forest in the Kaimai Ranges is slowly returning to its natural state.
For the past 11 years the Aongatete Forest Restoration Trust has worked in conjunction with Forest and Bird and Ngai Tamawhariua to carry out intensive pest control. The Aongatete Forest Project now maintains a 500ha sanctuary where 1100 bait stations are located along 67km of trapping lines.
Chairperson Barbara McGillivray says the number of birds, insects and spiders has dramatically increased, and plants such as king fern and raukaua are now regenerating.
“Riflemen birds had never been recorded in the Kaimai before but now you hear them every time you go. That’s really special and testimony to the pest control being effective,” Barbara explains.
“We target rats in particular because they eat the insects that birds would otherwise feed on along with young chicks and eggs. Rats are also a food source for stoats and ferrets so if we eliminate them it has a knock-on effect.”
Trust members believe our forests and birds are what makes New Zealand unique, and would like to see pest control introduced across the entire 32,000ha Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park.
“The Kaimai Ranges play a really important role in a world increasingly affected by climate change. They are a permanent carbon sink and they help mitigate the effects of flooding and drought in the Western Bay.”
Even with volunteers, pest control is an expensive business. The regional council, Forest and Bird, and other community funders all contribute. Now BayTrust has approved a $35,000 grant towards operational costs to help employ a new part-time project manager.
“It’s a huge administration effort running the pest control project,” Barbara acknowledges. “All volunteer projects struggle with not having employed professionals to oversee things. A part-time project manager will really help us do all those outstanding jobs that our volunteers haven’t quite managed to get onto and improve our processes and profile. We are absolutely thrilled to have BayTrust’s support.”
The Trust hopes to install more interactive signs for the public, continue developing an education programme for schools who visit the forest and stay in the lodge, and carry out more frequent guided walks.
“It’s really exciting. This funding will really enable us to support our volunteers and lift our efforts in terms of community engagement. We’ve talked about doing more guided walks but it’s a big ask for volunteers so we hope our new project manager will help get that up and running more effectively.”
An ecologist who has previous experience running pest control projects has just been appointed and will continue as long as future funding allows.
“We really want to increase the interaction and enjoyment of people going up there and visiting the forest so they begin to care about the ecological treasure that’s on their doorstep.”