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Private restoration project rewarded with repeat funding

In a hidden valley, just a stone’s throw from the new Kapiti expressway, a lifestyle couple are restoring their 19-hectare block of bush for native lizards and insects.

The Kotukutuku Ecological Restoration project, on private land in Valley Road, Paraparaumu has just received its third consecutive year of funding from the Department of Conservation’s Community Fund. The newest grant of $5,000 comes on top of $19,000 across two earlier grants in 2015 and 2016.

DOC’s community ranger supervisor Melody McLaughlin say they are the only community group in the Wellington area to be funded back to back for three years.

“This is an exceptional project using highly professional techniques and showing real outcomes for biodiversity. The repeated support from DOC is fully deserved.”

The project involves deploying best practice conservation techniques to restore mature lowland kohekohe and kanuka forests. These areas are regionally important biodiversity hotspots, recognised as ‘key native ecosystems’ by the regional council, with over 150 species of native plants, and even threatened native snails.

Landowners Peter and Diana Kiernan fenced the bush block nearly 30 years ago to exclude stock. The trees look lush and the understory is recovering. With regional council already controlling possums, trapping for rats and hedgehogs was the next step. But even that wasn’t enough for the committed group.

“We also target mice with a 25m x 50m grid which people think is a bit mad. But for us it is a high priority because we want to bring back the lizards,” says Jim O’Malley, a family friend of the Kiernans and third member of the core group.

“Insect life is a good overall indicator of the ecological health of the land. Suppressing mice should see those lifeforms bouncing back. We are very interested in measuring that. To know if we are having any impact, we have measured everything from the start. Our monitoring programme is what really sets our project apart.”

A network of lizard monitoring tunnels, tree wraps and pitfall traps have been set up and are checked bi-annually. Bird counts are conducted monthly and traps to measure insect numbers are also laid out one month per year.

For this, the group use Malaise traps – large tent-like structures for trapping flying insects.

“These are really effective – they were invented by Swedish entomologist Rene Malaise in 1934 after finding that more insects were captured inside his tent than by sweeping his net through the air!

“Checking these traps is fascinating stuff – we’ve had kids through from the local school and they just love it.

“For us it is critical knowledge about how the project is progressing. While lizard monitoring will take many years to show an impact due to their slow breeding, our five-minute bird counts already show a marked increase, especially of tuis.”

Jim says this phase of the project was always designed to run for three years, but for Peter, Diana and Jim the work won’t stop after this year’s funding.

“It’s very satisfying to be given the chance to see it through. We really appreciate the support to be able to complete what we’d always planned to do.

“This is a long-term project. With the kick start of DOC funding to set up the trapping and monitoring, we’ll be able to continue and hopefully see some sustained restoration for this bush block for generations to come.”

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