Aim to bring kiwi back to Bluff

    Estelle Leask and David Swann in the nursery with one of their electronic trappers which will dramatically increase predator kill rates.

    BY way of green thumbs and hard mahi, the Bluff Hill Motupohue Environment Trust (BHMET) hopes to see native kiwi return to Bluff by 2050.

    The Bluff Native Plant Nursery, established by BHMET chair Estelle Leask and David Swann is taking a multi-layered approach to restoring native plants and wildlife on Motupohue.

    “It was part of the trust’s strategy to establish a native plant nursery to help with the recovery of vegetation on Motupohue. So while it’s been a long process, the nursery has finally been established,” she said. The nursery finally became operational three months ago.

    The first layer of the approach is predator control.

    “If you let your foot off the throat of these predators for one season, they’re back to where they were, so predator elimination’s the only way of doing this for the long term,” Mr Swann said.

    “We’re now using the latest technology to tackle the predator problem.

    “Every trap that we deploy has a sensor on the side, so when the trap is triggered the sensor sends a message back to the hub, so we can clear the trap immediately.

    “We can dramatically increase our kill rates for predators.”

    The next layer is weed control, namely gorse and wilding pine. The threat of gorse is largely managed by predator control, as this makes it possible for native plants to outgrow the invasive weed.

    “We take a passive approach by letting the gorse be a good nursery, and then the native’s will eventually outgrow that.”

    The third layer, and the pinnacle of what the trust is trying to achieve, is species reintroduction to Motupohue. “We reintroduced the South Island robin back in 2018, which was once prolific throughout New Zealand but is now on the threatened species list,” Mrs Leask said.

    “We brought 43 robins back from Waikaia. We know we’ve got breeding populations, because the original birds were banded and now we’re seeing unbanded ones.

    “We also want to reintroduce Tieke, another bird that is locally extinct on much of the main island, and we have the conditions largely in place for reintroduction with the goal being 2023. Our more ambitious goal is to get kiwi back on the hill by 2030.”

    Mr Swann said the biggest challenge facing the restoration of kiwi populations in Bluff, was the remanent populations of possums, mustelids, and rats.

    “We’ve got to have eliminated possums and mustelids, otherwise the kiwi will stand no chance. We also have to work with the community around dog walking and responsible cat ownership.”

    They said the Bluff community had been amazingly supportive of the work done by the trust, and they had a strong community of volunteer trappers.

    All of the native plants growing in the nursery are destined for a habitat restoration project at Waituna Lagoon, where Awarua Runanga bought a retired dairy farm and have begun restoring the land around the lagoon. To help accelerate the recovery of the farm and rewild it, to help with mitigation for climate change and to help mitigate the nutrient loss coming off the farms near the lagoon.

    “It’s not hard to chop down a native forest, but by goodness it’s hard to recover it,” Mrs Leask said.