Farewell Spit – a fence too far?

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Gerard Hindmarsh is a writer based in Golden Bay.

Opinion: More than a few Golden Bay residents have worried about the perceived loss of access lately.

A new penguin fence to be built in Tarakohe, reduced vehicle access along the Takaka River in Waitapu, six stretches of beach soon to be declared no-go zones. A new bird hide even at Taupata Point sets the tone. Everything on the cards or here already.

Revealed last week is now an ambitious plan to make Predator Free Onetahua Farewell Spithopefully by 2025.

Along with key initiatives targeting stoats, rats, possums and feral cats, the plan is to install a hog-proof fence at the base of the spit, intending to close it off to endless hog intruders. coming out of Pakawau. Forest.

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* New sanctuary to boost seabird numbers at Cape Farewell

MARTIN DE RUYTER/STUFF

Sky Davies of the Tasman Environmental Trust, Chris Wheatley and Peter Butler of the Onetahua Restoration Project at Te Whare Whakatū HealthPost Nature Trust Field Station.

This is something which until now has been largely ruled out as unfeasible due to the possibility of bypassing the flats at low tide in Puponga.

So I went to the Tavern in Collingwood last week for one of the ‘drop-in’ sessions on the proposal, the other was held at the Old School Cafe in Pakawau the following day.

Predator Free Onetahua, as the initiative is called, is community driven, I’m Informed, conspicuously absent DOC, yielding instead to Tasman Environmental Trust and Mawhenua ki Mohua, with Free Predator 2050 New Zealand Ltd adding their support.

This will be the latter’s 19th large-scale landscaping project.

Map of Pest Free Onetahua (Farewell Spit)

Map of Pest Free Onetahua (Farewell Spit)

I’m still enjoying the early days, but the eight-page glossy takeaways showcasing the project had little information, but lots of bird photos, concepts, and mission statements.

Sky Davies, director of the Tasman Environmental Trust, says on page three: “Imagine at sunset thousands – perhaps millions – of birds flocking from the sea to their nests at Onetahua Spit. It was like that before, a loud celebration of life. We can restore it, but first we have to get rid of the parasites that eat their eggs.

Excellent viewing, although many Farewell Spit migratory birds do not lay eggs there, preferring to do so in Siberia.

I find that Dunedin-based environmental consultants Ahika have written a comprehensive report that the public is not aware of, the one that invites feedback is still being written. The future of consultation?

“We’re still in the exploratory phase,” admits Grant Williams of Collingwood, who has been helping with other community responders to deal with drop-ins. “We know there will be challenges, preventing pigs from going around flats at low tide on the spit is definitely one of them. But we also need to consider recruiting around 12 field staff, preferably local, and eventually getting more funding.

Grant Williams, digging at Cape Farewell Ecosanctuary, Golden Bay.

HealthPost Nature Trust / Tips

Grant Williams, digging at Cape Farewell Ecosanctuary, Golden Bay.

Williams has worked extensively in this upper corner of the South Island over the past five years, trapping predators and helping establish a colony of burrowing seabirds at the Cape Farewell Ecosanctuary.

I ask him for a few more details about the pig fence, which should be at least 4.5 km long.

“The exact line of this has yet to be decided, but will run between Puponga Point and a ridge 300m east of Pillar Point, not including Pillar Point light.

“The fence will not be too high, 1.2m, about the same as a stock fence, but it will be a specialized mesh with an overlay rail along the top, the same overlay as the can be seen at Cape Farewell Eco-sanctuary.”

Regarding the fence ending in the open mudflats on the Puponga side, Williams explains:

“Firstly, it would be very unusual for pigs to venture through or past the village of Puponga. They are currently commuting to and from the spit on the north side and have not been recorded as far as I know near of Puponga Point, but if they did, the individual would be recorded on camera and dogs would be brought in immediately to catch him.

Peter Butler, left, and Williams dig into the first burrowing seabird nest boxes at Cape Farewell Ecosanctuary, January 2019.

Gerard Hindmarsh / Stuff

Peter Butler, left, and Williams dig into the first burrowing seabird nest boxes at Cape Farewell Ecosanctuary, January 2019.

“Stoats and rats can and will continue to walk around the southeast end, but there would be a very intense web of surveillance and kill devices on the first mile on the ‘clean’ side of the fence.

“The 5000ha suppression area west of the fence is also intended to reduce predator pressure on the fence. It is important to note that the protection of this wide tidal margin is unique among the other 18 PF2050 projects.

“It is very useful to solve this problem from an experimental point of view if Aotearoa wants to achieve predator-free status. There are several places/borders nationwide that require similar protection. Constant innovation, R&D and the resulting new technologies will all have to be employed.”

So what has been the feedback so far? Williams tells me that visits to the two introductory sessions brought out a healthy bag of skeptics and supporters.

The Spit was once a natural refuge for bird life.  It is hoped that the fence will help restore the area to what it once was.

Provided

The Spit was once a natural refuge for bird life. It is hoped that the fence will help restore the area to what it once was.

As for his own voluntary involvement, “Understanding the absolute need for predator control through my work with Predator Free 2050 and Cape Farewell Ecosanctuary motivated me to get involved until the PFO was fully deployed.

“My contribution, entirely voluntary to date, has largely consisted of introducing the concept to landowners. I have a lot of respect for this group of people, having grown up on a farm myself.

Winning the locals is of course going to be key here.

The last disastrous DOC meeting here at Pakawau Hall on July 28, 2019 drew over 80 locals to discuss the department’s nomination to make Whanganui Inlet and Mangarakau Swamp a contiguous Ramsar site with Farewell Spit.

It would be fair to say that the meeting devolved into a slang match as locals increasingly intervened, with two police officers having to attend the event to maintain order and protect the three DOC officers presenting the unpopular proposal. .

Specific objections to this Ramsar proposal at the time included unnecessary overlapping protections, a short timeline and a perceived lack of transparency in consultation, with the influence of outsiders dictating what could be done in “their” back -yard, encouraging too much tourism around the creek, and the gradual tightening of regulations generally applying to fishing and hunting-gathering.

Not so surprising then that DOC stands clear of the counter on this one.

Farewell Spit, with Wharariki Beach in the foreground, is an area of ​​pristine natural beauty.

Provided

Farewell Spit, with Wharariki Beach in the foreground, is an area of ​​pristine natural beauty.

So how much does Farewell Spit still need restoring anyway? The short answer is heaps.

Golden Bay pioneer Harry Washbourn described the pristine Farewell Spit in the late 1850s as “overgrown with vegetation and long ridges of wooded sand dunes with long linen troughs in summer and shallow lagoons all winter, perfect breeding grounds for all the ducks and seabirds that live enough cluttered the place.”

Fifty years later he visited again; “Unfortunately, due to the relentless gunfire, it has been reduced to a drifting mass of sand and only a few remains of dead trees remain on what were once wooded ridges.”

Restoring Farewell Spit to its original state is still a long way off, but this remarkable 30km-long sandbar has been vastly improved for the more than 100 species of birds that still inhabit it for at least part of the year. ‘year.

The last word goes to Williams: “Fifty percent of our bird species are extinct, half of the others are heading towards extinction. Seabirds are much worse off, with a decline of around 90%. So, are we going to run with this project, or are we going to sit on the couch and browse the channels until we find one that suits our comfort zone? »

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