The predator eradication programme, funded by Predator Free 2050, covers an area stretching from Farewell Spit south to the Whanganui Inlet, taking in the Kaihoka Scenic Reserve and Pakawau Forest and, with the support of landowners, some private land bordering these areas. The feasibility study for the project conducted by Ahikā Consulting will move into its operational stage in mid 2022.
Pest Free Onetahua is a ground-up programme sparked by the local community for the benefit of our unique local environment and its people. As part of the Jobs for Nature programme, the project is poised to become a significant job creator in the region. Local support is critical to our success. We are working with the community to help us design and roll out the programme.
Home to thousands of birds, Farewell Spit is a wetland of international significance. A critical stopover for migrating wader birds, it gained international status as a Ramsar site in 1976. You can read more here.
Predators threaten many of these and other native species. We want them gone and we’re not alone. We are part of a growing nationwide movement that seeks to eradicate wildlife endangering predators and return habitats to their rightful owners, our native wildlifae - our taonga. Predator Free 2050 is co-funding many other eradication projects around the country. Take a look here.
Photo by Bradley Shields
Shifting Sands and Changing Landscapes
A Place Shaped by Wind and Water
Farewell Spit continues to grow in both length and width thanks to quartz sand deposits originating in the Southern Alps, carried by rivers to the Tasman Sea and on to the spit by the longshore Westland current. Its elegant curve, reminiscent of the Kiwi’s beak, reaches into Tasman Bay as a result of this process, which commenced most likely in the Pleistocene epoch.
Archaeological findings including middens and pits point to Maori occupation of the spit. Later, with the arrival of European settlers, the spit, or Tuhuroa as it was then known to local Māori, would undergo a dramatic transformation. A diary entry from HP Wasbourn in 1933 describes the spit as once being covered with vegetation, but thanks to slash and burn techniques and stock grazing, the area was stripped of its greenery.
A Precious Taonga of International Significance
Established as a Ramsar site in 1976, Onetahua Farewell Spit’s significance is internationally recognised. The site is the highest ranked ecosystem in the Tasman District (Leathwick & Singer 2019). With 20,000 migrating wading birds calling this area home each summer, some flying from as far afield as Siberia, its importance as one of the largest bird habitats in the country is undeniable. Some 90 species of bird have been recorded here in this hugely dynamic and diverse environment.
Photo by Bradley Shields
Photo by Bradley Shields
So What’s Wrong With This Picture?
Species such as the Banded Rail, Pipit, Marsh Crake and the beloved Little Blue Penguin, are all in decline. More seriously, the fate of the Australasian Bittern is considered critical. Others fluctuate between vulnerable and endangered. What makes the spit so attractive to birds, a cornucopia of molluscs, echinoderms, crabs and worms that reveals itself at low tide also provides a lure for predators. These food-rich tidal flats on the inner side of the spit attract possums, pigs, mustelids and rats into the fragile nesting areas of defenseless birds. The effect of this predation has been devastating and conservation workers report regular sightings of plundered nests and rooted up vegetation.
It's not just about the birds
Onetahua Farewell Spit is also home to other native species. Powelliphanta and other carnivorous snails, geckos, skinks, carabid beetles and weta are also at risk of predation. Vegetation on the spit is susceptible to grazing by possums who have been causing damage to the Rata in Pakawau Forest. Hares are intense grazers of young seedlings, and greatly impede the regeneration of plant life on the spit.
What do we stand to gain?
Seeing off the predators that threaten our precious taonga can only result in benefits. Restoring the spit to the thriving, raucous world of birds it once was will strengthen our communities, our ecosystems, our economy and our culture. We can lift our most vulnerable species from an endangered to recovering status all the while promoting meaningful engagement within our community and creating jobs for locals. Our understanding of the link between predator eradication and climate change is growing. Forest and Bird produced a recent report which showed the negative impact of animal browsing on the natural ability of native ecosystems to act as carbon sinks. Stopping predators from stripping away vegetation will reverse this trend. Many landowners are already engaging in their own trapping practices. HealthPost Nature Trust has been carrying out a smaller scale eradication programme of its own and Paddy Gillooly and his team at Farewell Spit Eco tours have been actively trapping on the spit for many years. We can throw our weight behind these efforts, build on the good mahi that’s already been done and share our learnings with other eradication projects in New Zealand.