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ReWilding The North For World Wetlands Day - Wetland A Paradise For Wildlife

The completion of the second stage of an ambitious project to rewild a once grazed Northland valley into a lush wetland has been celebrated with an event to mark World Wetlands Day.

The Underwood Wetland project near Dargaville commenced seven years ago in 2017 with an opening ceremony attended by then Associate Minister for Conservation, Nicky Wagner. The project has been a partnership led by Fish & Game New Zealand, and protects an area of precious native forest, wetland and river flats.

The 342-hectare area includes remnant kauri, hardwood forest and wetland, and river flats containing scatterings of kahikatea.

Sited along the northern and eastern frontages of the Manganui and Northern Wairoa rivers, it is home to threatened species, including the kauri snail, the North Island fernbird, marsh crakes and Australasian bittern. The creation of wetlands adjacent to these river margins is expected to create important habitat for spawning inanga (whitebait) and threatened eel populations.

The land was purchased from local farmers David and Gloria Underwood by a $600,000 grant from the Nature Heritage Fund with $55,000 from the Northland Fish & Game Council for survey costs in 2016. 300ha of the native forest was then classified as scenic reserve to be administered by the Department of Conservation. The remaining 40ha of grassed valley floor and surrounds was vested to Northland Fish & Game Council as Local Purpose Reserve for the development of a wetland.

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Access work to create public tracks and to allow machinery into the property began in 2016. A series of ponds starting from the head of the valley were created as Stage 1 of the project. This was followed by a second stage in 2022, which saw a 210-metre-long and 4-metre-high bund wall created to block the valley floor and flood it, creating over 5ha of open water and vegetated shallows. It now features almost 10ha of pools and ponds with the remaining area being remnant native forest, native plantings, grassland and newly created access tracks.

The development work for the wetland has primarily been funded by $122,000 from the Northland Fish & Game Council and the Game Bird Habitat Trust, who gave $137,900 to fund the project. This totals $259,900 of money derived from the sale of hunting licences going directly back into the creation of wildlife habitat. Costs for access to the property were shared with the Department of Conservation, and grants for plantings have also been received from Kaipara Moana Remediation and the One Billion Trees Programme for native plantings. Planting work has been completed by Fish & Game staff as well as a significant volunteer effort from hunters and other supporters of the project.

Fish & Game New Zealand Chief Executive Corina Jordan attended the event on Friday 2 February.

"There has been an ongoing pattern of net loss of wetlands in New Zealand. Overall New Zealand lost 5,761 hectares of freshwater wetlands between 1996 and 2018. It makes projects like this vitally important. Fish & Game’s journey has always been about protecting, restoring and rewilding Aotearoa New Zealand’s natural freshwater habitats and wildlife species.

"Fish & Game has been at the forefront of protecting New Zealand’s freshwater for the past three decades with a dedicated spend of almost $3 million per annum covering engagement in national and regional policy processes and work on the ground to protect and restore wildlife habitats. Approximately $2.4 million has been invested from the sale of game licences and habitat stamp products for projects like the Underwood Wetland to protect, restore and create wetlands, mainly on private rural land, in partnerships between hunters and landowners."

Former Northland Fish & Game Manager Rudi Hoetjes championed the project over the years.

"This couldn’t have happened without the Underwoods. They recognised how special the place was, that it was largely undeveloped, and they saw the potential to return it to its original forest and wetland. The majority of the Kaipara District is highly modified, so remnants like this are incredibly rare and valuable. The Underwoods sustainable management of the property meant that regeneration was underway before the reserve was created."

New Zealanders can apply for funding through the Game Bird Habitat Stamp Programme for the protection and enhancement of game birds or other wildlife habitat. From every game bird hunting licence sold, $5 goes to the New Zealand Game Bird Habitat Trust. For example, in the 2022/23 hunting season, hunters contributed $157,808 from game licences sold to be distributed by the trust as habitat grants. Since its inception in 1993, the trust has provided $2.4 million in grants to nearly 300 projects with some 2,000 hectares of habitat either created, enhanced or re-instated.

Buy a habitat stamp with your game licence or purchase it from NZ Post and help fund habitat enhancement. To apply for these funds, see the Fish & Game Council website for an application form and further details. Applications for Habitat Funds close on 30 June.

About Fish & Game New Zealand

Fish & Game manages trout, salmon, and game birds to provide healthy recreation for Kiwis.

We work to protect the environment that anglers and hunters have enjoyed as a tradition for over 150 years.

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