Survey competition winners carry on Grandpa’s conservation work

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Lamb prices are poor this season, there have been droughts in recent summers and another drought is forecast, but Otorohanga farming couple Jarrod and Danielle Hawkins were saying just before Christmas that if it did rain this summer then maybe they could buy some more kill traps for their QEII covenant block.

They’re strongly committed to keeping rat and possum numbers down on their 100 ha or so of covenanted bush, but keeping up with predator control can be a big financial outlay.

The Hawkins family on the farm
Danielle and Jarrod Hawkins, with their children Katherine and Blair and family dog Ruff.

Thankfully that’s one bill the couple won’t have to foot in 2016. Jarrod and Danielle are the winners the Predator Free NZ/QEII National Trust joint survey competition, with $2000 to spend on pest control on their covenant.

Danielle and Jarrod’s block has been in Danielle’s family for three generations, since ‘Grandpa’ broke in the land after World War II. Back then the 100ha of land that now forms the bush covenant was forested, while the remaining 350ha which now makes up the family farm was fern and scrub.

Jarrod and Danielle purchased half of the sheep and beef farm from Danielle’s grandfather a few years back and lease the rest from her parents. The main covenant block is about 44ha with half a dozen or so other pockets of various sizes. It was formerly Maori land and had been burnt through for generations, so the bush is a few hundred years old, not ancient forest. It’s good forest though and has been well cared for – a home to tomtits, robins, bellbirds, tui and kereru.

Danielle’s grandfather was an early and lifelong conservationist. When he broke in the rest of the farm he fenced off the bush and throughout his farming life he shot and trapped possums and planted more trees.

A landscape shot of the farm
The main covenant block on the Hawkins’ family farm.

‘Grandpa’ was renowned New Zealand conservationist and founding member of the Native Forest Restoration Trust, Arthur Cowan who died in 2014 at the age of 98. Arthur’s land was one of the earliest blocks in the south Auckland district to be covenanted, soon after Gordon and Celia Stephenson, the founders of the QEII National Trust covenanted their own land in 1979.

Jarrod and Danielle took over the family farm 10 years ago next May (2016). ‘Grandpa’ was aged 90 when they moved to the farm and he had about a dozen bait stations. Jarrod has gradually increased that number to 400. Initially Jarrod set out his bait stations the recommended 100m apart and then he began ‘filling the gaps’, building the traplines up over a 4-year period. The main pest species in the bush are possums and rats, but he hopes to catch a few ferrets too with the new traps he plans to buy with his prize-money.

Recently Jarrod has had some welcome help with maintaining his trapping programme. Philip Aislabie worked on the farm for Arthur Cowan 50 years ago and, now retired, has returned to the area to live. The Aislabies have purchased the cottage by the woolshed and Philip helps Jarrod with checking the traps and keeping records up to date, recording what, where and how often bait is taken. So Arthur Cowan’s work continues into the 3rd generation – and there’s still plenty of work to be done. The $2000 prize-money is a welcome windfall and guaranteed to be well spent.