Boundary Stream Mainland Island volunteers share their experiences.

Date:  01 June 2010

Mike Lusk

Keen botanist Mike Lusk became a Boundary Stream volunteer when he retired in 2007. He spends two days a month there, undertaking a variety of tasks including monitoring trap lines, landscaping and recording native orchids.

"When I retired in 2007 a friend asked me if I'd like to join him on a trip to Boundary Stream MainIand Island, where he had been helping with traplines.

Mike Lusk's volunteer work includes monitoring lizards, including the Wellington green gecko. Photo: Denise Fastier.
Mike Lusk's tasks include monitoring lizards, including the green gecko

"Being a keen tramper and with a lifelong interest in 'nature study' I really enjoyed the experience, even removing maggoty rats from Fenn traps. 

"I now try to go up two days a month, staying overnight as the relative remoteness makes day trips inefficient. Staying overnight also allows relaxed interaction with the other staff and volunteers, and gives me time for wandering in the reserve outside work hours. I haven't done trap lines for a while as I've been helping visiting experts and landscaping around the base, using ecosourced natives.

"I have a particular interest in botany and have enjoyed recording the native orchids in the sanctuary, a particular highlight being the discovery of Drymoanthus flavus, a small epiphytic orchid which is in decline nationally. 

I see the opportunity for a lot more input from local volunteers and the addition of extra accommodation should make that possible. Quite apart from general assistance, there is great scope for groups to be involved in specific projects such as cage building and clearing/remarking of access tracks, leaving the DOC staff more time for research. I have a network of friends on whom I will call as such opportunities arise.

Sven Stadtmann

Sven, who is studying Forest Ecology and Nature Conservation in Freiburg, Germany, was keen to take time out to apply his learnings overseas, and learn about conservation practice and pest control in New Zealand. His eight weeks of volunteering at Boundary Stream in November/December 2009 count towards his Bachelor degree.

"I wanted to go to an English speaking country and a place which has always seemed to me as a paradise," says Sven Stadtmann, explaining what brought him to New Zealand as a conservation volunteer.

Volunteer Sven Stadtmann fits a transmitter to a kiwi chick at Boundary Stream Mainland Island. Photo: Corey Mosen.
Volunteer Sven Stadtmann with a kiwi chick at Boundary Stream

Boundary Stream Mainland Island appealed to him when he searched the New Zealand section of a book of nature conservation volunteering and working opportunities published by NABU, Germany’s largest conservation Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO).

"I emailed the Department of Conservation and got an answer a few days later which was really great. I didn’t think it would be so easy.

"Now, the longer I stay, the more ideas I get. I'm looking for an opportunity to get more involved with DOC and possibly study for a Masters degree in Conservation Biology at Victoria University. First though I want to get to know new people, learn, and see.

He considers himself lucky to be at Boundary Stream where he undertakes such varied tasks as pest control (bait stations, trap lines and mustelid tracking tunnels); monitoring kiwi and kokako and general birdwatching maintaining tracks, and doing office work.

There seem to be more opportunities to work in conservation in New Zealand than in Germany, he says when asked to compare the conservation efforts/techniques/issues in New Zealand with those in his home country.

"Pest control is not a big issue in my country, but we have the same need for involving local communities better into conservation practice."

Highlights of his volunteering experience at Boundary Stream include experiencing Maori culture, and getting to know DOC staff, and being able to change the transmitter on a kiwi chick. "Not everybody gets the opportunity to handle or even see kiwi."

Challenges include driving in the left lane, laying bait stations ("it's quite exhausting"), almost being hit by a falling tree, and getting his motorbike licence.

Hsiao-Hang Tao (Stacy)

Stacy learned of the Department of Conservation's volunteer programme from a young Swiss woman who was a volunteer hut warden in one of the Tongariro Northern Circuit huts, and was keen to try it herself.

Stacy figured out that New Zealand is a "beautiful and friendly country" when she holidayed here in early 2009. The graduate from the National Taiwan University's Institute of Cellular and Molecular Biology tramped the Great Walks and had a "wonderful time".

"It's a great chance to not only be a tourist appreciating the beauty of nature, but to work to conserve it. So I applied for a New Zealand working holiday visa which allows me to stay here for a year."

Boundary Stream volunteer Hsiao-Hang Tao (Stacy) with a kiwi. Photo: Sven Stadtmann.
Boundary Stream volunteer Hsiao-Hang Tao (Stacy) with a kiwi

Stacy ended up at the Boundary Stream Mainland Island in November 2009 because it was first to respond to her volunteering applications. During her eight week placement she helped control pests - changing baits for trap line and for bait stations, and monitoring mustelids and rodents; tracked and banded kiwi and checked kiwi nests, surveyed kokako and lizards, helped out with data entry in the office, and cleaned toilets on the track

Stacy's looking forward to being able to apply the radio tracking skills she honed with kiwi to species in her home country, and sharing what she has learnt about predator-free mainland islands - "an effective way of protecting the native birds and vegetation from introduced mammals".

She's impressed by New Zealanders' willingness to try out new conservation managment techniques, the commitment shown by communities here to conservation, and the effort that goes into raising public awareness of conservation issues

"It's not only DOC and scientists putting in lots of effort, but the whole public taking care of the environment and conservation. When more people are aware of environmental issues, it's much easier for conservation to be done well. In addition, DOC is willing to try new ideas and methods of management, so there are many different conservation strategies going on all around New Zealand.

"New Zealand is also very open to international exchange, to the benefit of both countries. And the DOC website is well-organised, so people from all over the world can see how conservation is managed"

Highlights of Stacy's volunteering experience at Boundary Stream include the joy of holding a newborn kiwi, feeling its heart beating, and knowing that the "effort we put into the traps and bait stations are worthwhile".

She enjoyed the "amazing scenery", learning about native plants, insects and birds, and spending time with volunteers and scientists from different places.

"We had beautiful nights cooking together, playing guitars and sharing our ideas. I also had chance to go snow boarding, caving and riding a motorcycle in the reserve, which is lots of fun.

"The weather here changes so fast that I have experienced heavy snow in my first week without electricity. When the weather is good, the green farmland and blue sky and the ocean and dozens of sheep are picturesque."

During her stay Stacy also participated in fire training, learned Maori culture at a hui, rode in a helicopter, helped with community restoration projects, and discovered how to drink beer and sing karoake, and talked with "lovely people".

"I was very touched by how people love New Zealand and take care of their environment."

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