Te Urewera Mainland Island near Opotiki has been recognised as one of the top 25 ecological restoration sites in Australia and New Zealand. It is among eight New Zealand sites selected by the international Global Restoration Network (GRN) in preparation for a major ecological restoration conference to be held in Perth in August.
Department of Conservation (DOC) Acting Opotiki Area Manager, Andy Bassett said today that the size of Te Urewera Mainland Island and the variety of native species being protected are features that make it a distinctive ecological restoration project.
“At 50,000 hectares, Te Urewera Mainland Island is the largest mainland island in New Zealand. Work has focussed on developing techniques to manage large-scale ecological restoration. The successful techniques we have developed have attracted New Zealand and overseas ecologists who have come to see how we protect large forest tracts. This latest recognition is a tribute to the many people who have worked in and supported the project over the last twelve years,” Mr Bassett said.
Te Urewera Mainland Island (TUMI) was established in 1996 following surveys that showed North Island kokako numbers were falling. At Otamatuna, a site in TUMI, there were eight pairs of kokako in 1994. After over a decade of sustained pest control in the mainland island project, there are now 112 pairs of kokako at Otamatuna.
Kokako are just one species to benefit from ecological restoration in northern Te Urewera. The forest contains most North Island native forest bird species. It also has over 650 native plant species. Rare and threatened species include kokako, whio, kiwi, kaka, mistletoes, tusked weta, long-tailed bats and native fish.
When the project started, the practical difficulties of protecting a vast area of steep heavily forested territory required innovative thinking. Ecological management was structured around a two tier system. Possums were controlled over a 50,000 hectare ‘background area’ within which, other pests were intensively controlled in various smaller ‘core areas’. In a New Zealand context, keeping possum numbers at low levels over a large area provides a major contribution to improving the ecological health of a forest. The smaller core areas are where intensive control of pests such as rats, stoats, deer and other animals, allows the recovery of viable populations of native species.
Otamatuna is one of these ‘core areas’ where pests such as rats, stoats, cats, dogs and deer are controlled to very low levels. Movements of species such as kokako between core and background areas, and improved forest health within the whole project area are combining to restore this vital area of forest and ensure the viability of native animal and plant populations.
“A key feature of this project has been research, trialling and refinement of management techniques that can be used elsewhere. Over the years, visitors, particularly from the Pacific region, have come to find out how we do things here and take ideas and techniques back to their own projects. A particular attraction for many Pacific Island groups, is the opportunity to get a tangata whenua perspective on the work here through conversations with Tuhoe people involved with the project,” Mr Bassett said.
Techniques from TUMI have also been used in other New Zealand restoration projects. Now that it has been shown that it is possible to halt the decline of key elements of large forest ecosystems, DOC plans to use the TUMI model in other areas such as Raukumara Conservation Area, Kaweka Forest Park and Ruahine Forest Park.
“Te Urewera Mainland Island was established by DOC but it has been supported by people from far and wide. Ngai Tuhoe are fundamental to any activity in Te Urewera and have been involved in the project throughout. Environment Bay of Plenty, Eastern Bay Forest and Bird, volunteers, contractors and scientists have all contributed to this project and are essential to its future success,” Mr Bassett said.
Other New Zealand projects selected by the GRN panel were Mana Island, ZEALANDIA (The Karori Sanctuary Experience), Tiritiri Matangi, Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project, Fiordland Islands Restoration Project, Maungatautari Ecological Island and Bushy Park Sanctuary.