For 10 years, Brad Windust has been trapping introduced predators in sections of the Ōpua State Forest. The Ōpua State Forest spans 2000 hectares and is a coastal lowland Kāuri forest in the heart of the Bay of Islands. This forest is home to rare flora and fauna populations that are seriously under threat. Introduced predators such as rats, stoats, feral cats and possums are causing catastrophic damage to every level of the ecosystems. Ōpua State Forest’s giant kauri snails have already become locally extinct.
Brad is a trustee of Bay Bush Action, a charitable trust set up to protect and restore the Ōpua State Forest. Bay Bush Action has a core area of about 450 hectares of the forest that has extensive trapping to keep predator numbers as low as possible. Brad and his highly-trained conservation dog, Wero, spend their time venturing out into the bush checking and setting traplines.
We asked Brad, what is special about Bush Bay Action?
It’s the forest. Like so many coastal forests it was brutally attacked by humans. They tried to kill it with fire, saws and machinery, but the ancient forests in the valleys survived. When people saw the catastrophic damage they had done, the intense slips that occurred, and the topsoil that spewed into the beautiful Bay of Islands clogging up the estuaries, they set about protecting it, to let it start returning to its former glory. But then came the onset of introduced pests, wiping out much of the indigenous wildlife that remained. For 30 years nothing was done while huge Northern rātā fell and wildlife, like our giant kauri snails, became locally extinct. We knew we had to act. We set up Bay Bush Action as a charitable trust whose aim was to save the forest.
It was amazing. People cheered from the sidelines, offered their help, and supported us financially. There was still a lot of interesting flora and fauna that was worth saving. Everyone that walks into this forest, falls in love with it. As Bay Bush Action volunteers drove pest numbers down, people in the Paihia township started noticing the massive increase in birds. Birds such as tūī and kūkū (also known as kererū) and even kiwi were coming back into their backyards as the spillover from our pest control area made progress.
Why did you get involved in conservation?
I grew up in Takiwira, Dargaville and spent most weekends pig hunting. One day I was with a friend who pointed out a huge coastal pōhutukawa forest that was dead. I couldn’t believe I was looking at thousands of dead pōhutukawa trees. I asked why, and he said, it was possums. At the time I was shocked that I had never noticed this until he’d pointed it out. I had hunted in this dead silent forest but was too interested in pigs – I hadn’t seen what was right in front of me. I quickly got my cyanide license and started killing thousands of possums on my weekends. The more I looked, the more I learnt, the more I realised just how massive the problem was, and it wasn’t only possums and pōhutukawa and it sure wasn’t only this forest. Rats, cats, and stoats were killing all native wildlife within these forests too. I had always considered myself a conservationist, I knew the damage pigs were doing and unlike many hunters, I always killed the sows, but I had no idea the smaller pests were eating the forest alive, night after night. This is when I rehomed my pig dogs, changed careers, and brought a German Shorthaired Pointer. I was accepted into the Conservation Dogs programme and now I have a highly trained dog that finds stoats and we work together helping keep our precious wildlife sanctuary predator free.
What benefits have you seen from people getting involved in local conservation projects like Bay Bush Action?
I think it’s been the same for others that have got into conservation, as it has for me. As a kid, I always had a goal to leave the world better than I found it. But for many years I didn’t really know how to achieve this. I didn’t litter, I voted for the most environmentally friendly people, and I hunted pigs, but that was about it. When you do good best practice, multi-species predator control (possums, stoats, rats and cats) you see the benefits clearly. The trees recover, the birds and lizards return, it inspires people and they see what’s important. People understand we are at the crossroads between environmental collapse or recovery, and when they know they are on the right side, their happiness immensely improves and they walk with purpose. Often people’s careers change as they realise what they love doing can be a part of their everyday work. Most people want to help and not all people contribute the same way. Some people help financially, others give words of encouragement, some lobby for better laws, some control weeds, some plant trees, and some put QElI Covenants on their bush properties protecting them into the future. But we all have one goal, to leave the place better than we found it.
What are a few things we should know about Ōpua forest and Bay Bush Action?
Whatungarongaro te tangata, toitū te whenua (as man disappears from sight, the land remains). The valleys are full of huge ancient podocarp and broadleaved trees, with the ridges covered in a 100+ year old regenerating forest.
This forest is the major national stronghold of the stunning Northern Green manuka gecko, the rare Pittosporum pimeleoides, the nationally endangered fern Todea Barbara, and the uncommon coastal tree tawaroa, which occur here in good numbers. It has one of the Far North’s largest wetlands left, and many smaller ones nestled within it.
Bird species include the bittern, kiwi, wood pigeons, tomtits, tūī, fantails, moreporks, mioweka (banded rail), spotless crake, weka, fern birds and many more. The tiny native forest bats are still just hanging on.
Our awesome volunteers have trapped:
- 177 feral cats
- 286 stoats and weasels
- 4,968 possums
- 15,487 rats
Our volunteers have increased the kiwi population in our trapping area from zero in 2011 to over 22 birds now.
We are absolutely stoked to be a recipient of the Mahi mō te Taiao (Jobs for Nature) fund to protect the whole forest from possums and rats.
We still need $300k to increase stoat and cat control over the whole Ōpua State Forest.
How can people support Bay Bush Action?
If you would like to make a one-off donation or a small weekly donation it’s easy.
Our bank account number is Bay Bush Action Trust 38-9011-0447220-00
Please put your name and phone number in the reference fields.
Or if you’d like help in another way, email us at [email protected]