Forest & Bird is New Zealand’s leading independent (not-for-profit) conservation organisation. We work to protect, restore and defend New Zealand's wildlife and wild places. Originally formed to protect our native forests and birds, our role has since grown to include all of New Zealand's wildlife and wild places – on land and in our oceans, lakes and rivers.
I was only two-years-old when my parents bought an old ‘smoko hut’ from the Geraldine Linen Flax Mill and transported it to Te Puna a Taka (Lake Clearwater) – part of the Ō Tū Wharekai wetland system in the Ashburton lakes/upper Rangitata River area, now part of the Hakatere Conservation Park – there to be converted into a family bach.
Perhaps it was a predictive omen that my first vivid memory of ‘the hut’ was of a single-roomed wooden building liberally splattered on the inside with the guano, old nests and dead bodies of many dozens of starlings that had previously made the building their home.
It was not the starlings, however, that were to capture my imagination at Lake Clearwater, it was the puteketeke (Australasian Crested Grebe – Podiceps cristatus).
The Ashburton Lakes were, and remain, a haven for this beautiful bird and for me they were the stand-out wildlife of the area. They became the icon of decades of idyllic summers fishing, swimming, tramping, bunny shooting and bird watching throughout this utterly beautiful landscape.
In those early days cattle grazed up to their bellies in the red tussock wetlands at the head of the lake and they, along with sheep and rabbits, had pretty much reduced the surrounding hills to sparse fields of mouse-eared hawkweed, stunted tussocks, a few hardy alpine shrubs and herbs, and the ubiquitous spear grass. Nevertheless, it was a majestic landscape and a great place for a boy to live the life of Tom Sawyer, free to adventure at will.
The birds, for me, were always more fascinating than trout. My rod would be laid down willingly when grebes or huge flocks of New Zealand scaup floated by, or black-fronted tern darted overhead. The summer pastures were places for a boy to find nesting SIPO and, in the riverbeds, banded dotterel and wrybill. Marsh crake and bittern were heard in the swamps at night, and harriers were a constant in the burning blue summer skies. Falcon were regularly seen, and little shag nested in the tall pines on island. I would spend hours floating on my lilo, or in a canoe, watching them, especially the grebes.
Puteketeke were popular with the fly fishers too. The baches are located on a ribbon of land between the larger Lake Clearwater and the smaller Lake Camp. Apparently, the reason power boats were confined to Camp was because of the danger of powerboat wake to the grebe’s floating nests on Clearwater. It’s my earliest recollection of something being done for ‘conservation’ reasons.
Then, as now, there was a pair of grebes that always nested in semi-submerged willow right on the foreshore where the motor camp was, and still is. I’m assuming not the same pair all this time, but clearly the site is a valuable one as I cannot recall a season when there wasn’t a nest there. The others pretty much all nested among the willows leaning into the water from the island or attached floating nests among the semi-submerged swamp tussocks.
I got my first camera when I was aged seven and learned the bitter lesson that a second-hand box brownie did not deliver satisfactory results when aimed at birds out on the lake. My early photos were dominated by scenes of distant silhouetted birds in a watery landscape.
My growing up at the lakes coincided with the growing up of the conservation movement in New Zealand. Eventually, the Ashburton Lakes were to become part of Hakatere Conservation Park protecting, among other things, some of the best kettlehole landscape and red tussock wetland in New Zealand. The degree of recovery of the landscape since that protection is nothing short of amazing. The snow tussock has returned in force; alpine hebes and other shrubs are flourishing; delicate snow berries, vegetable sheep, lichens, mosses and other ground covers have re-clothed the rabbit-scarred fields. Lizards, butterflies, grasshoppers, weta, crickets and other insects are now abundant. The birds are recovering too, though the numbers of grebes remain comparatively low on Clearwater.
Which all points to why this photo is my favourite. This female grebe with her chick symbolises the whole story of a precious montane and wetland landscape that has flourished under conservation protection. There is, at the risk of anthropomorphising, a confidence in the pose of the mother and the presence of the chick symbolises hope to me; hope for a better future for this incredibly beautiful and important landscape, and the plants and creatures that live in it.
By Steve Attwood. Steve has been a conservationist most of his life. He has developed his special passion for bird photography during the past 15 years. He lives in Little River, Banks Peninsula.
A recent video clip of a stoat sussing out how to get onto the top of a picnic table where a kārearea (New Zealand falcon) was standing at Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, sent shivers up my spine, no fear of the big bird on the stoat’s part.
This was followed by a stoat darting around a lacebark half a metre away from where I was standing at our place. It showed no fear either, it was just looking at me, running behind the tree looking at me from the other side.
A stoat eats a whio (blue duck) egg.
This happened until I called the dog and then the stoat disappeared. I am uncertain what the formula is for stoats, but if you see one there are several others around for sure. To date, we seem to have had little luck luring them into traps, and this is not for lack of trying, asking for advice and applying recommended baits.
DOC scientist, Dr Graeme Elliott predicts a mast year, which happens when the temperatures during the summer are warmer than the year before. This results in heavy fruiting, and the best indicator trees for this are native beech. This year, kahikatea, matai and totara are also fruiting profusely. Tracking tunnels are then used to gauge whether rodents reach such high levels that they threaten birdlife.
Predators, such as rats and mice multiply rapidly when there is a feast to be had in the autumn, and so do stoats that prey on them in the winter. When the seed rots or germinates in spring, starving rodents turn to birds eggs and nestlings, Following this the stoat numbers also explode and they too turn to birds and eggs for food.
Elliott predicts this year to be the biggest mast year so far. The Department of Conservation is, therefore, planning to control predators over one million hectares of native forest.
In the absence of such predator control, small populations of kākāraki/orange-fronted parakeets, mohua/yellow head, rock wren, pekapeka/long and short-tailed bats, kiwi, kea, whio/blue duck and native snails would be most at risk.
Blue duck are one of many native species that are at-risk during a mast year.
New Zealand can’t rely on DOC to do all the predator control. While we don’t have rare species near our place, we are lucky to be able to enjoy korimako/bellbirds, tūī, pekapeka/long-tailed bats, lizards, and many other species, therefore we also have a responsibility to do our bit with predator control. Keeping cats inside at night would be a good start. Who wants rats or mice, these are trapped relatively easily? But the challenge for us is to lure the cunning stoats into our traps.
Ines Stäger is a landscape architect based in Geraldine, a board member of the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society and a committee member of the local
Auckland Council is currently consulting on the future reopening of tracks in the Waitākere Ranges, which were closed to stop the spread of kauri dieback disease. Forest & Bird believes that if council focuses on building high quality tracks which stop the movement of any soil, and that they only open tracks that are on the forest edge and coastal areas rather than in the centre of the forest, we can better protect these precious kauri forests from further infection. Here’s a summary of our submission to the Council that you can use as a guide to make your own. You can make your official submission to Auckland Council right here.
Summary of Forest & Bird’s submission:
3. Does the proposed track plan provide a good balance of recreation experiences and forest health?
3A. Tell us more about why you agree/disagree with the tracks shown on the plan:
Answer: It does not include currently open tracks, all of which need to be upgraded to meet the required Controlled Area Notice (CAN) standard for kauri safe tracks before any work is done towards opening new tracks.
4. Are there any specific tracks that are not currently in the future work programme that you think should be included?
Answer: All currently open tracks, as these are having to take significantly increased traffic and are already severely degraded.They need considerable work to be fit for purpose and this must be the first priority, and should be in the 2019 work programme.
4A. Please name specific tracks and explain reasons why you consider these should be included.
Answer: As above
5. Of the tracks identified in the future work programme, are there any that you would particularly like to see prioritised?
Answer: Priority should be given to those on the FOREST EDGE and in COASTAL AREAS before opening those within the forest.
6. Are there any specific tracks that are currently in the future work programme that you think should be removed?
Answer: The Hillary Trail section from Whatipu to Karekare should be rerouted along the beach. The only track along this section that should be reopened is the one from the beach to the Pararaha Campground. All other tracks should remain permanently closed.
7. Do you have any other feedback?
Answer: We need to focus on the QUALITY of the upgrades, not the quantity. All track upgrades need to comply with the CAN standards (i.e. no movement of soil) and the opening of any track needs to be agreed to by Te Kawerau ā Maki. Cutty Grass track is currently closed but is occasionally used by heavy machinery by Vector. This therefore needs to also be upgraded to CAN standards.
This consultation is now live and will be running through until the 14th of March 2019. You can find maps of the tracks here.
Who’s to blame for this misconception? Was it Bram Stoker who wrote the classic tale of Count Dracula in 1897, or was it the film industry that subsequently embellished the story of the supernatural, blood-drooling vampires?
In contrast the two remaining New Zealand bats are not at all like vampire bats, they are micro bats, and as the name suggests, tiny and very cute. The long-tailed bat is classed as “nationally critical”, while the short-tailed bat subspecies ranges from “nationally vulnerable” to “recovering”.
On mild evenings, and there have only been a few of these, I went for a walk in the hope of seeing pekapeka (long-tailed bats) before darkness fell, but to no avail.
Then, a couple of weeks ago I started a new regime of taking the dog for a second walk at dusk. This first evening was drizzly and the temperature was between 12degC and 14degC. As I was heading out the gate, much to my surprise, because I wasn’t even looking for them, two pekapeka were sweeping just above us in the direction of one of our ponds. Despite the drizzle, there were plenty of insects about and the bats were feeding on the wing.
The next evening was clear and I never saw any bats. Then a day later it was grey, dull and drizzly, and here we go again, I saw one bat. The following night I saw two bats and again it was a dull and a rather fresh evening.
This experience is different from other years when we saw them night after night on mainly balmy evenings. I don’t have any explanation for this change, except for one aspect; I observed that on fine evenings, tui were still chattering and chortling away until around 10pm. All other birds were quiet. Is the chortling of the tui discouraging bats from leaving their roost sites in Talbot Forest?
Pekapeka are expert fliers, and can reach an incredible speed (up to 60kmh) and easily catch insects on the wing. Their wings are made up of long finger bones joined by a thin layer of a translucent membrane.
In search of food they travel up to 15km from their roosts each night. It seems a high number, but they apparently can consume up to 600 insects a night. This seems quite a lot, since they only weigh about 18g.
Does this mean, if we encouraged more bat roosting sites and had more bats, they would reduce the number of species that create harm to horticultural and agricultural crops, such as the grass grub beetle?
Ines Stager is a landscape architect based in Geraldine, a Forest & Bird board member and a committee member of the South Canterbury branch. This article was originally published in The Courier.
Many people shudder at the thought of bats. But who’s to blame for this misconception?
Was it Bram Stoker who wrote the classic tale of Count Dracula in 1897, or was it the film industry that subsequently embellished the story of the supernatural, blood drooling vampires? In contrast, the two remaining New Zealand bats are not at all like vampire bats, they are microbats, and as the name suggests, tiny and very cute. The long-tailed bat is classed as ‘nationally critical’, while the short-tailed bat subspecies range from ‘nationally vulnerable’ to ‘recovering’.
Long-tailed bat (Photo by Colin O’Donnell/DOC).
On mild evenings, and there have only been a few of these, I went for a walk in the hope of seeing pekapeka (long-tailed bats) before darkness fell, but to no avail. Then, a couple of weeks ago I started a new regime of taking the dog for another walk at dusk. This first evening was drizzly and the temperature was between 12 and 14 degrees. As I was heading out the gate, much to my surprise because I wasn’t even looking for them, two pekapeka were sweeping just above us in the direction of one of our ponds. Despite the drizzle, there were plenty of insects about and the bats were feeding on the wing.
The next evening was clear and I never saw any bats. Then a day later it was grey, dull and drizzly, and here we go again, I saw one bat. The following night I saw two bats and again it was a dull and a rather fresh evening.
This experience is different to other years when we saw them night after night on mainly balmy evenings. I don’t have any explanation for this change, except for one aspect; I observed that on fine evenings, tūī were still chattering and chortling away until around 10 pm. All other birds were quiet. Is the chortling of the tui discouraging bats from leaving their roost sites in Talbot Forest?
Pekapeka are expert fliers, and can reach an incredible speed of up to 60 kilometres per hour and easily catch insects on the wing. Their wings are made up of long finger bones joined by a thin layer of a translucent membrane. In search of food they travel up to 15 km from their roosts each night. It seems a huge number, but they apparently can consume up to 600 insects a night. This seems quite a lot, since they only weigh about 12 grams. Does this mean, if we encouraged more bat roosting sites and had more bats, they would reduce the number of species that create harm to horticultural and agricultural crops, such as the grass grub beetle?
Ines Stäger is a landscape architect based in Geraldine, a board member of the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society and a committee member of the local branch.
First published in Forest & Bird magazine, Nov 2012
First, as somebody once said, like execution, it concentrates the mind. Or more so, like inoculation, some brief pain and a little rash can be reassuring for the future. It was a salutary lesson that may well have been learned much harder by a massive oil tanker rather than a cargo vessel and we were reminded that extreme weather phenomena are not necessary for such calamities. Human stupidity can do the trick nicely.
Hihi chicks in a nest
Rena was front page news and the lead story every night. Oil-caked seabirds clambered all out-of-sorts in blue plastic tubs, obviously suffering. Pathetic, less fortunate ex-birds long since done for marked the high-water mark on the sand. Herds of media were dispatched in all haste and at some expense to “be there”. The scene seethed with volunteers and concerned citizens atop kikuyu dunes not knowing quite what to do but wanting to do something. It was heartening to see such a rally from citizenry and media in the face of a clear and present local environmental bummer, but I kept wondering, and hoping … When is it going to happen? When are they going to say it? Surely they must … but it never happened.
It is estimated that about 1500 birds died due to the Rena’s spewforth, and certainly untold other creatures were affected in some malignant way. To this day, when the Rena incident is mentioned, it is qualified in sombre and cautionary tones as “New Zealand’s largest environmental disaster”.
It is, of course, nothing of the sort. It’s not even close, and that was what I was waiting to hear.
Are you sitting down? Every year 26,000,000 native New Zealand forest birds perish to mammalian predators. It’s a number so crazy that it seems unbelievable, but don’t think for a second that some hysterical shrieking loon is picking numbers out of a hat and ramping things up for eco-shock purposes. This is a very conservative estimate, and it should be headline news.
John Innes of Landcare Research is not a man prone to hysteria. He’s pragmatic and rigorously scientific in approach, and his paper on the subject should be better known. Here’s the calculation. Forest covers 23 per cent, or 5.98 million hectares, of New Zealand. Assuming a miserly five native bird nests to each hectare in any nesting season, that’s 29.9 million nests.
Of those, 73 per cent, or 21.827 million nests, fail. At an average of two eggs per nest, that’s a total of 43.654 million chicks that fail to fly from the nest.
Predators are blamed for at least 61 per cent of those. That’s 26,628,940 chick and egg losses. This does not include the loss of mature birds to predation, introduced birds, or the much larger number of native birds that nest in parks, gardens and farms.
In a recent interview on the subject, I asked John why there isn’t more of an outcry and hence action. “I’m constantly struck at the lack of fuss …. I’m sure most people just don’t understand the magnitude of it,” he said. That’s why I enjoyed the Rena disaster. It showed how ordinary folk react when confronted with a clear environmental catastrophe, and it gave me hope about the response if the bigger picture is better known. The shame is that it isn’t.
It’s fair to assume that a large part of the public motivation during the Rena spill was to help rectify a single, directly human-caused affront to nature. Humans stepped up as an apology to the natural world for human folly. This is good and noble, but, frankly, the creatures don’t give a damn.
They care not for “sorry”, nor do they appreciate our motives. They and all our precious wildlife just need our action. Our inaction on introduced predators is also calculable.
Conservatively it is 17,333 times worse every year than a single reckless cargo ship’s crew.
Setting aside cool, south-facing slopes in our cities as nature refuges will increase the chances of survival of our vulnerable native species in the face of global heating. Our Climate Advocate Adelia Hallett writes more.
New research by Victoria University’s Faculty of Architecture and Design, published today, says that city planning has a critical role to play in helping New Zealand’s native fauna cope with a warming planet.
11 year-old female tuatara Ataahua with Forest & Bird climate advocate Adelia Hallett. Warmer temperature means fewer female tuatara will hatch.
“Although protecting south-facing slopes does not guarantee that biodiversity will be able to adapt, this study suggests that there are still potential opportunities for establishing urban development strategies that can help ensure the conservation of wildlife against the impacts of rising temperatures,” the paper says.
Many of New Zealand’s native plants and animals already face extinction because of things that humans have done, including habitat destruction, pollution and the introduction of foreign pests and diseases. Human-induced climate change, bringing more storms, droughts and pests and diseases as well as rising temperatures, could be the final nail in the coffin for some species.
In a report released in October, scientists brought together by the International Panel on Climate Change warned that letting warming get to more than 1.5deg could be catastrophic for both humans and nature.
While the world’s focus is (rightly) on cutting greenhouse gas emissions to prevent catastrophic levels of heating, we also need to think about how we – and nature – are going to cope with the amount of warming that is now unavoidable.
Making sure that species caught by rising temperatures have somewhere cool to go – as suggested in today’s report – is one practical measure we can start putting in place now.
The study, by Amin Rastandeh, Maibritt Pedersen Zari, Daniel Brown and Robert Vale, uses Wellington as a case study and warns that plans to build an extra 21,400 houses in the city by 2043 could destroy the few remaining places where native species are safe.
It is vital that towns and cities across New Zealand start planning now to help nature adjust to global heating. In Auckland, Forest & Bird is working with the council, Department of Conservation and community groups to create a “wild-link” that will allow species to move across the city between Waitemata Harbour to the Waitakere Ranges.
If we want to still be able to walk out our backdoor and see our amazing native species, we need to factor nature into our climate adaptation planning.
The latest round of climate negotiations (COP24) in Poland just wrapped up and Adelia Hallett, our climate advocate, breaks down what it all means. The short version is that the latest agreement agrees on ‘how’ to count emissions, but not on the ‘what’, that is, the actual target we need to meet in order to protect nature and ourselves from catastrophic climate change.
Agreeing on a common rulebook that shows how the Paris Agreement will be implemented is an important step forward, because it will mean there’s an international standard for accounting for emissions (an aspect that is harder than it seems).
Now for the bad news. There was no firm commitment to keeping warming to no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. This was largely because of opposition from the United States, Russia, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and some other oil-producing nations.
Worse still, countries won’t reassess their 2030 emissions reduction targets until 2020, but that’s the year emissions would need to peak by if we are to keep warming to below 1.5 degrees. Global emissions are rising again, and are not expected to peak until 2030, which would result in warming of around 4 degrees or more by the end of the century. Even if current 2030 targets are met (and at the moment that looks unlikely), we are looking at 3 degrees of warming by 2100.
Even at 1.5 degrees of warming, nature will take a hammering, and the impacts will be roughly twice as bad at 2 degrees of warming. It could be much worse than this if feedback loops are triggered, which scientists say is looking increasingly likely at less than 2 degrees of warming.
New Zealand’s current 2030 target is to cut emissions by less than 9 percent below where they are now. That is consistent with warming of 3 degrees by the end of the century (if everybody had the same target as us that’s what would happen). What we need to do cut emissions by about 60 percent by 2030 to stay below 1.5 degrees.
Forest & Bird, New Zealand’s largest independent conservation organisation, moved its bank accounts from ANZ because of serious concerns over the bank’s investments in fossil fuels.
Forest & Bird asked ANZ for a fossil fuel divestment plan in 2016, but hasn’t been satisfied with the company’s response. In March 2018, Forest & Bird announced its plan to shift accounts away from ANZ.
“For nearly a hundred years Forest & Bird has been taking direct action to protect nature by planting native trees and getting rid of pests. Climate change is one of the biggest threats our native species and places have ever faced, and it requires a different type of direct action,” says Forest & Bird Climate Advocate Adelia Hallett.
“In May 2018 we moved our business to a bank that doesn’t finance the fossil fuel business because saving nature – and ourselves – from climate disaster means we must make rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and that means no more fossil fuel extraction.
“The change was disruptive but worth it, and we want all groups and individuals to do the same,” says Ms Hallett.
350 Aotearoa has published a report about financial ties to fossil fuel industry in Aotearoa’s financial sector, and which banks are taking steps to become fossil fuel free.
Forest & Bird’s Board voted to confirm the organisation will move from ANZ in favour of a bank with stronger environmental credentials, Kiwibank.
“We accept Kiwibank’s assurance they do not currently lend to fossil fuel companies. However, they are aware that we want to see this become a permanent public commitment,” says Ms Hallett.
“Climate change is a major threat to New Zealand’s unique and threatened native species. Across the globe, the fossil fuel industry has been responsible for major environmental damage and the loss of important natural habitats.
“Forest & Bird doesn’t invest in fossil fuels and it is important to us that our banking provider supports this.
“We encourage other organisations in New Zealand to look at the investment practices of their banks. This is an action we can all take on climate change. By demanding responsible investment practices, we can change the way this country, and the world, does business.”
One-hundred and fifty scientists from around the country have signed this letter to the Government asking for bold action to tackle climate change. Here is their letter in-full:
We the undersigned, representing diverse academic disciplines, call on the government to take robust and emergency action in response to the deepening ecological crisis. The science is clear, the facts are indisputable, and it is unacceptable to us that future generations in Aotearoa and globally should have to bear the terrifying consequences of climate breakdown.
Infinite economic growth on a planet with finite resources is not viable. And yet successive governments have promoted free-market principles which demand rampant consumerism and endless economic growth, thus allowing greenhouse gas emissions to rise. If we continue on our current path, the future for our species is disastrous.
The recent special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is unequivocal. The world’s leading climate scientists warn that we have only 12 years to halve global emissions and get on track to avoid warming of more than 1.5C and catastrophic environmental breakdown. They have advocated urgent and unprecedented global action. As Debra Roberts, co-chair of the IPCC working group says: “this is the moment and we must act now”. The message could not be clearer.
New Zealand has a history of taking courageous political initiatives which have had global influence. We can, and must, do it again with bold and urgent action on climate. New Zealand could lead the world by immediately developing a data-informed plan for rapid decarbonisation of the economy. We demand that the government meets its duty to protect its citizens from harm and to secure the future for generations to come.
The views expressed here are those of the signatories and not their organisations.
Dr Niki Harre, Assoc. Professor, Psychology & Associate Dean, Sustainability, University of Auckland
Dr Julie Rowland, Assoc. Professor School of Environment, University of Auckland
Professor Clark Thomborson, Computer Science, University of Auckland
Dr Virginia Braun, Professor, School of Psychology, University of Auckland
Dr Rachel Fewster, Associate Professor, Department of Statistics, University of Auckland
Dr Anna Santure, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Science, University of Auckland
Dr Elizabeth Peterson, Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology, University of Auckland
Dr Mark Harvey, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Creative Arts and Industries, University of Auckland
Dr Wei Yuen Loo, Senior Lecturer, Civil Engineering, Unitec Institute of Technology