A guest editorial by Northland conservationist and author, Wade Doak. From the minute Jan and I, with our two teen kids, landed on a forest hilltop at Ngunguru, some 33 years ago, pest control became part of our survival.
We had forty-four acres of wilderness, half of which, well regenerated native forest, we covenanted. Sustainable lifestylers with a half round barn, windmill, solar panel, woodstoves, out-door toilet and no mod cons, we had to cope with rats and mice, stoats and possums; and two very territorial wild boars.
We were invaded by wandering dogs and cats, a wild cow, individual goats and then a herd of 14 goats set up camp on one of our beloved forest ridges. I had to become a hunter. Jan was my dog!
Against possums, rabbits and goats our life support vegetable gardens had to be enshrouded in expensive wire netting cages. Fruit trees were stripped bare in a night until metal collars were fitted around their trunks. Pohutukawa and many other introduced timber trees were demolished with gut-wrenching voracity.
We could not grow a crumb of food unless we protected it from pests. Our roof water supply had to be guarded: possums would jitterbug and boogie above our heads at night. The first time we used cyanide baits 31 possums died the instant it hit their blood stream. Like the goats, they became fruit trees.
So we were far from newbies at pest control prior to an empowering 2007 Houturu/Little Barrier Island experience but this native bird sanctuary was the major influence that spurred us to full-scale war. We were sure we could really make a difference to local bird life and the forest community, with vast benefits to ourselves – but little did we dream where it would lead…
In the following years we increased our efforts to catch pests, getting several kinds of trap to avoid shyness and using cyanide whenever populations began to rise from invasion. Meanwhile we continued to explore our land in greater detail, finding new plants and planting rare ones, as for a refugium.
Then came the wonderful stage when we joined forces with newly arrived neighbours and formed the Riverlands Landcare Group. Our protected area is 172 hectares. But we have been able to influence formation of two more Landcare Groups in our vicinity, by circulating the story and images of our successes. Several hundred hectares are now being defended with ardour. This has brought us all together into a warm community.
It is wonderful to have few rats around now. No possums. We catch them as they arrive; none are resident. The birds breed like mad each season. Already their singing is much more intense.
We have found rare geckoes and skinks and giant kauri snails. Bizarre peripatus blue velvet worms thrive galore. Our forest is pulsing with such density of seedlings, spared by rats and spread by birds, that we recently had to hack a path through a swathe of once seriously depleted kohekohe.
We have entered paradise. As ardent nature photographers many of the subjects in our latest book [my 20th] were a few steps from the house. At night a kiwi calls.
‘Bringing Back the Birdsong’ is a documentation, with three hundred photographs, of the wildlife explosion that has occurred here at Riverlands, Ngunguru since we and our neighbours (total of 172ha) got on top of the exotic predators. We have three endangered lizards, zillions of giant carnivorous kauri snails, peripatus, giant weta galore, and a welter of impressively large native insects etc. We have indicator species, such as fern bird, miromiro and kiwi… bittern, banded rails, spotless crake, pateke/brown teal… What we are discovering is the re-establishment of our native NZ ecosystem: Gondwana.
These effects are not simple catenations; linear patterns like my words, they spiral out and interweave as more and more native plants of ever increasing diversity establish, seed uneaten by rodents, spread by birds, pollinated by weta and lizards, etc, provide more and more bird food. Then the bird seed distributors and other creatures create an astonishing settlement of new native trees. Kokekohe are so dense they choke our pest bait access tracks.
I’ve had to write a whole book to explain it all. Of the twenty hard copy books I have written, ‘Bringing Back the Birdsong’ has been the hardest and most demanding and I was helped hugely by my wife Jan; as septuagenarians it is now our life’s work. So many in New Zealand share this enthusiasm, a mosaic of grassroots land restoration is ramping up. We predator control groups are all just pixels in an emerging new picture.
*A sequel to this book is ‘Ngunguru, a River in Time and Space’, available as an Amazon Kindle digital download.
My nature writings (several on nature in the north)