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When farmer Rick Braddock took over the farm on Motutapu Island, he had no idea it was going to be the start of a lifelong interest in conservation.

Date:  07 September 2010

When farmer Rick Braddock took over the farm on Motutapu Island, he had no idea it was going to be the start of a lifelong interest in conservation. After 18 years of running the remote farm on the Department of Conservation-managed island, he says that anyone involved in Motutapu needs to be absolutely passionate about conservation. “It’s not about running a farm, it’s about being involved in the restoration of an island.”

Motutapu Farm is one of the 4500 businesses that the Department of Conservation (DOC) works with around the country. And with DOC’s recent establishment of a Commercial Business Unit, more businesses are expected to start investing in the great outdoors.

On the face of it, farming and conservation may seem to be uneasy bedfellows, but Motutapu Farm is a great example of how conservation values can be effectively combined with commercial activities.

Pasture will always be a necessary part of the landscape on Motutapu, and grazing is the best way to maintain that pasture. One reason for keeping the grass short on parts of the island is that this is the best way to protect the island’s many archaeological and historic sites. Another reason is that some of New Zealand’s native species — such as pateke (brown teal) and takehe — actually prefer grazed grass and wetlands.

“Pasture also allows the natural beauty of the island to be seen, as it preserves the beautiful views on the island,” says Mr Braddock.

But Motutapu is not just pasture. Thanks to the hard work of the Motutapu Restoration Trust — on which Mr Braddock is a trustee — more than 500,000 trees have now been planted on the island.

“We’re trying to create a mosaic of habitat types on Motutapu, to suit as many native species as possible,” says DOC’s Auckland area manager Brett Butland.

This also benefits the farm. Motutapu was once almost barren, and shelter for animals is a crucial part of any farm.

Rangitoto and Motutapu restoration project

One of the most exciting developments on the island lately has been the commencement of a two-year restoration project of both Motutapu and adjacent Rangitoto. “The eradication of the remaining seven mammalian pests on the islands is now well underway, and the Department is on track to declaring the islands pest-free by mid-2011,” says Mr Butland. “We’ve already had bellbirds, pateke and kakariki make their own way back to Motutapu.”

Once the project is complete, Motutapu Farm will be the only pest-free farm in New Zealand. Keeping it pest-free requires extra vigilance from farm staff, but Mr Braddock says it’s well worth it.

“I’m excited to be involved in such an ambitious project,” says Mr Braddock. “The benefits of having a pest-free farm are huge. To start with, there are no TB-carrying possums, and no rabbits — ten rabbits consume as much grass as one sheep. And then there are also the commercial benefits of being able to market a product that is produced in such a pristine environment.”

Sustainable food production

Producing food sustainably is something that Mr Braddock has become more and more interested in over the years. “I’m very interested in the ecology of farming. To produce food, we need to recognise that soil is a living being, not something inert that we add chemicals to,” he says. 

He’s the chairman of the Carbon Farming Group, and would like his farm to become a case study for how to build a farming system that is carbon positive. Last year, he had the carbon measured in his soil, and will monitor any changes until 2015. He expects to get the first results back in 2012.

He says the best way to improve soil carbon is to promote the natural activity of the soil. “Try using natural fertilisers rather than phosphate-based ones, use grazing methods that protect the soil, be careful around high-rainfall times and be conscious of the types of livestock on the farm – heavy livestock do more damage.”

Within three to five years, he hopes that his work improving the soil carbon will enable him to register his products as carbon neutral.

Mr Braddock believes the future of New Zealand food production is in providing a high-quality, traceable product that takes into account not only its basic value to the consumer but also animal welfare issues and its impact on the environment. One day soon, he would like to be able to market his product in this way, and being involved in the restoration of a conservation island adds even more value.  

He’d also like to work with DOC to encourage visitors to come and see a real-life working farm. “Because of Motutapu’s scale and proximity to Auckland, it’s an ideal place to demonstrate clean, green farming – and to be able to do it on a conservation island is even better.”


Amy Cameron, Media Officer

Ph: +64 9 307 4846 or 0275 111 222

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