The Waikato Biodiversity Forum Day, this time in Taupo, provides me with yet more thought provoking perspectives on what community groups do and why. Their words strengthen, confirm and add richness to the group data I’ve already collected. Here are some snippets of the day.
Feeling Good – Didymo Dave from the Hinemaiaia River Management Committee
Dave got the project started “…because a rat ate my lunch while I was fishing…twice!”. “Ours is a very unscientific project, we don’t use tracking tunnels… or do bird counts… but we’ve now got over 800 traps.” Is it working? The highlight is constant sightings on the river of whio (Blue Duck)… and lots of North Island Robins in the forest. As for vigorously tackling the extensive buddleia population “…we hardly made an indentation but it felt good!”
Thinking Smarter – Barry from the Pukekawa Wildlife Management Group
The group sought to get a better handle on the impacts of their predator trapping programme because “….we sort of wonder what we’re doing… we hear all of these birds” led them to wonder whether that was a result of their own work. Scientists Dr Caroline King and Don Scurr demonstrated the value of the group’s work by comparing artificial nest disturbance, tracking tunnel results and rat catch rates, “We were pleased to see how well our area compared with a nearby unmanaged area – beyond the need for statistics!” Using an animal movement detection camera opened a new world of understanding – in the future this technology may be used for monitoring birds – “at least it’s something you can put a number on”. Given challenges around resourcing, the group is “… looking at new ways of managing the reserve… thinking smarter”.
Kid Power – Collette from Hilltop School
“We just wanted to get rid of the weeds… we weren’t sure where we were headed with the project, we were a little naïve when we started. Kid power is wonderful… that’s how you get a lot done in a short time!” Hilltop have made some great gains with 650 native trees planted on a formerly weed infested block “… there’s still no clear vision as to where we’re going but with all of the help [from parents and the community], we’ll just keep going!”
Growing Noise! – Sally from Owhango Alive
The group only started in January after being asked to check the local school’s predator traps over the holidays. “A few of us started monitoring the traps …got interested and it just grew from there”. The main goal is to look after whio, kiwi and forest birds. The group was sought expert advice and were challenged with the question of, “…how are you going to measure whether you’ve achieved anything?” This lead to 5-minute bird counts and enlisting the help of many others in the local community as well as agencies because “…we couldn’t do it by ourselves”. The group’s vision includes monitoring outcomes, but in the meantime, lots of birds means, “… the bush is noisy, it’s great… and we’re proud to have 14 whio on the river…”
Macro/micro/N – Nick from the Lakes and Waterways Action Group
While many groups focus on macro-organisms, when it comes to understanding water quality, it’s the micro-organisms that really count – nitrogen too. Nick highlighted the integral role the group played in getting ‘Variation 5’ accepted which legislated for a 20% reduction in nitrogen going onto land in the Lake Taupo catchment. This bodes well for maintaining water quality and led to the formation of the Lake Taupo Protection Trust. Nick also highlighted a TED talk and asked us to imagine this technology being used to determine possum browse damage to the forest canopy
Innovative Inmates – Dave from the Department of Corrections
“To date we’ve built around 3000 traps; we’ve done a few innovations on the design over the years – as you can imagine, some of our guys are talented in more ways than one!” Floating nest boxes and traps to catch pet cats live have also been constructed, “you think if it, we’ll design it!” The work along with practical on-the-ground restoration has had a positive impact on the inmates, “… there are now guys putting their hands up to do some work in the community”.
Eagle Hunting – Didymo Dave from Te Awa Waitenui Project
“Look for eagles not chickens”. Eagles are kids who are willing to challenge themselves, learn new things – in short, “you don’t have to motivate eagles”. Dave’s eagle-hunting is a grass-roots approach to helping hapu (tribal/sub-tribal groups) and overcoming inter-generational distrust of “anyone in uniform”. Keeping kids motivated and engaged means honesty “speaking the truth” and provide rewards when the goals set by the kids are achieved – trapping 25 vermin = a trip to the movies and McD’s. When outsiders start feeding negativity in, Dave’s advice is to “go deaf” and when the kids get naughty, “be prepared to stand strong and set rules”.
Staying Power – Kiri Te Wano from Project Tongariro
Project Tongariro has been going for 30 years. Kiri, the project’s coordinator shared some of the ingredients underpinning the group’s success – not surprisingly there’s a strong focus on volunteers as they’re the bedrock of most community groups. A starting point is not to overcommit volunteers and provide training opportunities along with varied experiences to suit volunteers’ skills, interests and age groups. Project Tongariro has purchase benefits with partners such as the Taupo Native Plant Nursery, where members receive 5x free plants and further discounts on plants and regular volunteers are well rewarded – being a marshal for the annual Tussock Traverse Run looks like a lot more fun than actually competing! Volunteers’ input is acknowledged by, “telling their stories and getting their photos out there”. There’s also a strong focus on regular communication through a variety of media including bi-monthly newsletters, Facebook and webpage updates. Project coordinators need to ensure volunteers are well equipped to do the job as well as provide, “strong leadership” so that volunteers know what’s expected. And finally, have a paid coordinator!