Saturday 18th May 2024
HomeOver The GateOver the Gate - with Keith Gardner (Forest & Bird)

Over the Gate – with Keith Gardner (Forest & Bird)

You could say a bird in the bush is worth two in the hand when talking to Keith Gardner, secretary of Forest & Bird, Franklin branch.

Keith Gardner – for the birds.

With some 50,000 supporters in 50 branches, Forest & Bird works on a variety of conservation activities, from lobbying government to re-forestation, bird monitoring and weed-busting.

Its role has extended to protect all native species and wild places – land oceans, lakes and rivers.

In light of the society’s efforts to raise awareness and campaign for greater protection for native flora, fauna, habitats and natural scenic values, Rural Living spoke to Keith from Franklin Forest & Bird.

A member for 28 years, he has served as chairman, secretary and treasurer.

How many members does the Franklin branch have and what are its activities?

Franklin Branch has 150 members and 56 KCC members (under 11yrs). The branch follows the national aims of Forest & Bird which are to look after freshwater and estuarine habitats, to eradicate pests, see our oceans are healthy, see conservation land is well managed and see if the country is reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Franklin Branch does planting, weed control and rat baiting on Peach Hill Reserve. We help with community planting and clean-up local beaches as well as supporting regional projects.

There’s been much debate on freshwater standards. How clean are Franklin’s waterways and what can be done to improve the level of E.coli in our rivers?

Franklin waterways also have high E Coli levels; farming practices need to change to bring these down. Our economy depends on the environment and will only thrive sustainably when nature does. We need stronger property enforcement regulations based on state of the art science, not on words such as ‘swimmable’.

We need to make our lakes, rivers and wetlands habitats liveable for all living things great and small. Franklin communities already have projects to improve our waterways by fencing them and doing riparian planting.

The Ministry of Conservation has committed to increasing predator control, but F&B says this applies to only 20% of conservation forests. Will this help Franklin’s native bush areas?

We suspect very little funding will be used in our area. We don’t have a lot of DOC land. Most predator control is done by councils, private groups and individuals. The 1080 drop in the Hunuas was a successful attempt at predator control. Landcare groups in Franklin have also made a tremendous difference by developing predator control. We encourage individuals to have a go at predator control on their own properties.

RL understands DOC has been given extra funding towards toilets, campsites, huts and trails for tourist facilities but F&B says this does not assist DOC’s core work of protecting native wildlife and habitats. What more could DOC do?

We can’t protect our species and restore their habitats with DOC being underfunded. Less than half of their budget goes to looking after threatened species and we have 2788 threatened species. DOC staff levels needs to increase if this conservation work is to be done. Only about a tenth of the conservation estate can presently be covered by pest control.

This needs to be increased greatly or our forests will collapse. Working with groups which are already doing pest control and replanting habitats would be of value. We can have thriving ecosystems and native species but DOC needs money or we risk losing many species and ecosystems.

According to the Government’s Threatened Species Strategy, nearly 3000 native species are at risk of extinction, but DOC hopes to be actively maintaining only 150 (one in five) by 2030. What can be done to help more species survive?

If the Government is serious about saving native birds from extinction, they must properly fund DOC and take a genuine, whole of government approach, with all agencies prioritising conservation.

Responsibility also lies with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), and the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment. These agencies are second only to introduced pests as threats to nature. They’re enabling environmental destruction; they’re captured by industry agendas and continually fail to protect nature under their care.

The public can do a lot, by joining groups, such as Forest & Bird, and making conservation an election issue. By letting political parties know nature is in crisis and wanting Government to do something, the public can be heroes for nature.

F&B reported that 15,000 seabirds die each year in commercial fishing nets and long lines. Statistics show an estimated 1000 albatross, petrels and shearwaters were killed by long line fishing boats in 2015/16. Would improved rules help reduce these numbers? If so, could they be monitored?

F&B would like to see long-line fishing boats adopt international best practice measures by including area and seasonal closures, night setting, weighted hooks, use of tori lines and preventing discharge of offal. The best way to set and enforce the seabird’s ‘by catch’ limits is electronic monitoring with observers on boats.

What can Franklin F&B members do to help protect seabirds around the Awhitu peninsula and other coastal areas?

Seabirds often nest on the coastline on and above cliffs. They need protection from stoats, hedgehogs, feral cats and rats. Members can have bait stations on their own properties. These birds also need protection from free roaming dogs.

New Zealand dottrel have nests on the coast and members fence and provide protection as far as possible but off road vehicles are a danger to these birds and need to be banned from nesting areas.

There never seems to be enough Government funding. Why should the protection of our native species be a priority in this respect?

Our conservation estate is home to some of the world’s most remarkable plants and animals, many are unique to New Zealand. We are also the seabird capital of the world with more than a third of the world’s seabirds breeding here. What happens in our waters affects world populations.

Four out of every five of our native birds are heading for extinction and, it’s not just our wildlife that is affected; if we don’t protect our native species and their habitats, our economy is also affected. For example, millions of tourists come here every year because of our 100% Pure New Zealand brand; it’s how we market our main export products such as dairy and honey. All that needs protecting too.

If you could grow any plant or raise any animal (real or imagined) what and why?

The Puriri tree takes time to grow but looks great as it does. Its berries give it something extra and, once mature, it provides food for kereru (wood pigeons).

If you could be Minister of Conservation for a day what’s would you do first?

Stop selling parts of our conservation estate for a quick buck. Such land should be left for conservation and recreation where suitable; that’s what it’s meant for!

If you could ask any three people to dinner, living or dead, who and why?

David Attenborough would tell fascinating stories of encounters with animals.
Chatham Islands robin saviour, Don Merton. Hearing how he went about saving endangered birds would be great.

My late father, Norm, an expert on NZ and the Solomon Islands land snails. He would enjoy the company of the other two famous conservationists. I would thank him for instilling a love of the environment in me and for taking me into our wilderness, thereby giving me so many experiences when hunting for NZ land snails.

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