It’s an early winter morning, dark and chilly, but Northland dairy farmer Jane Hutchings couldn’t be happier. She’s leaning over the fence surrounding a stand of native bush, and completely tuned in to the soundtrack of her favourite music…
With husband Roger, Jane Hutchings is one of dozens of dairy farmers involved in their local landcare groups and linked into Kiwi Coast, helping to achieve the dream of thriving kiwi, roaming freely throughout Northland.
Mrs Hutchings, whose family dairy farm is near Kerikeri, says having kiwi – ‘our national icon’ – living and breeding on their farm is inspiring.
“We’re blessed that so many people in Northland have the same passion to protect kiwi.
“We always knew there were kiwi on our dairy farm, although rarely sighted. The severe drought in 2009 brought kiwi out of the bush foraging for food and water. After seeing six kiwi out in the paddock one night we decided we had to help them, not only through the drought, but also long term.”
The Hutchings quickly learnt the major threats to kiwi were uncontrolled dogs and animal pests like stoats.
With support from Northland Regional Council (NRC), they pulled together a pest control group of farming neighbours and others in their immediate area, and so the Puketotara Landcare group was formed. The group now protects kiwi in an area covering more than 5,000 hectares, stretching from Kerikeri to Puketi Forest.
Mrs Hutchings says NRC and Kiwi Coast have been a huge help for Puketotara Landcare, as they have been with other similar groups around Northland.
Kiwi Coast got underway five years ago, building on work done by the NZ Landcare Trust when Helen Moodie, who is now Dairy NZ’s Northland sustainability specialist, provided guidance to people keen to look after the kiwi that were increasingly appearing in their backyards.
“Kiwi Coast recognises that looking after kiwi is not about locking them up and throwing away the key,” Ms Moodie says. “We have kiwi in our productive landscapes here in Northland where they’re eating the worms and other insects that are prolific in our pastures – and through Kiwi Coast we are growing the kiwi populations by managing their threats.”
Kiwi Coast Coordinator Ngaire Tyson, who previously worked with Ms Moodie at the NZ Landcare Trust, says farmers, as landowners, are vital in Northland’s kiwi protection work.
“Kiwi Coast includes many farmer champions, – and when others in the community see farmers are involved, they want to help too. They say ‘we can do this; we can look after our patch’. Their imagination is captured.”
She adds that kiwi can do really well on farms.
“Many farmers, have fenced off bush, wetlands and stream margins to exclude stock, which helps protect kiwi habitat – and farms can also be safe places for kiwi with farmers having good dog control in place to protect their stock.”
Ms Moodie and husband Todd Hamilton are also part of the Backyard Kiwi project, which too is linked into Kiwi Coast and has been working to protect kiwi at Whangarei Heads for 20 years.
Backyard Kiwi covers the peninsula’s 6,000 hectares of mixed dairy, beef, and lifestyle block land. Over the past two decades the community-led group have turned the area into a kiwi stronghold, increasing the local kiwi population from 80 documented birds to more than 900.
Another dairy farming family working to protect kiwi on their own land and inspire others is the Imeson family at Hukerenui.
Judy Imeson is administrator of the Tanekaha Community Pest Control Area, and says her inspiration to protect kiwi came from neighbour Edwin Smith, who was a dairy farmer at the time – and a hardy adult male kiwi they named Two Toes.
With the Department of Conservation , Mr Smith had been monitoring the male kiwi, which had wandered out of the adjoining Whangarei Kiwi Sanctuary, and was found caught in a possum trap. Mrs Imeson says he was freed, but injured, and one of his three toes had to be removed – and so he was named Two Toes.
“After recuperating at Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre, Two Toes was fitted with a monitor and released.
“He and his life-long partner Binky then went on to produce many viable eggs over a 10-year period – sometimes three times a year. Most of their eggs were removed for safe hatching at Auckland Zoo, with the resulting chicks released on the predator-free islands of Motuora or Matakohe/Limestone Island in Whangarei Harbour.”
In 2016, after the farmer-led group worked with iwi and DOC to translocate a further 12 kiwi into their pest controlled area, it was decided to remove Two Toes’ transmitter, and allow him and Binky to live out their natural lives.
Mrs Imeson says her next step is to get a similar farmer-led landcare group up and going for the neighbouring Hukerenui farms to help boost local kiwi numbers even further.
If you want to find out more about any of these farmer-led kiwi projects or get your own Northland kiwi project up and running contact Ngaire Tyson, the Kiwi Coast Coordinator.