Baring Head by Colin Ryder

Spotted Skink (Richard Ronijin, GWRC)

Spotted Skink (Richard Ronijin, GWRC)It’s been a funny old Sunday morning weather-wise and I’m still a bit sore from spending 6 hours yesterday setting Doc 200 traps and grubbing out horned poppies at Baring Head.  I think I’m getting too old for this sort of thing.  Besides, evolution has given me the perfect body shape to be a couch potato; rather than to do real work.

Readers may recall that the 284 ha Baring Head property was purchased by the Greater Wellington Regional Council in 2010 for addition to the East Harbour Regional Park, following a short but intense public campaign.  (One of the pollies we lobbied told me a few weeks ago that they agreed to put some money towards the purchase to get some peace and quiet.)  A few months later, some of us involved in the campaign set up the Friends of Baring Head (original name, eh?) to help the Council restore the area’s many values.  It is quite obvious that the Council would never have the resources to do this on its own and, besides, if the community wants something to happen, then it should become meaningfully involved in the process.

So far, we have restored an historic pumphouse and done the usual conservation things like small mammal monitoring, beach clean-ups, planting and weeding.  Baring Head is such a great place that I’ve tried to get out at least every month.  It’s a great opportunity to recharge what’s left of my mental batteries and escape, temporarily, the city, the house and my wife’s “to do” list.

Banded Dotterel (Colin Ryder)One of the more interesting responsibilities we’ve adopted has been the funding and servicing of a relatively small project to protect a breeding site for a rare and endangered shorebird; the banded dotterel.  Besides disturbance by vehicles, dogs and stock, the birds were being hammered by the usual suspects; cats, mustelids, rats, and, most seriously, hedgehogs.

Temporary fencing and signage has been erected and I’m servicing a loop of 16 DOC 200 traps and 4 Timms traps; set at 50 metre intervals.  We’re using dehydrated rabbit meat in the DOC 200s (don’t do what I did initially and store it in the fridge – my wife gave me a bit a bollocking because of the smell, which matured over time) and mutton flap offcuts in the Timms traps.  After some patient, thorough and, in my case, nervous training, I’ve being going out at weekly or fortnightly intervals, rather than the recommended monthly, over the last 6 months to do my thing.  So far, I’ve caught 29 hedgehogs. 5 cats, 4 stoats, 2 weasels, a ferret, 2 rats (both yesterday, funnily enough) and a rabbit.  I have found that the cats are the messiest as they essentially disintegrate followed closely by the hedgehogs as they become bags of maggots.

The whole round takes less than an hour and seeing that it takes about the same time to travel each way to the site, I try to make the most of the trip by doing some other work as well.  About a month ago, I began serving another line of 6 traps nearby.

The baseline small mammal monitoring is now completed and we’re starting to gear up for property-wide pest control.  Greater Wellington have installed 101 DOC200s already and I’ve baited about half of these during my last two visits.  Most of the rest should be baited before a volunteer training day on 5 April.  Contact me on rydercj@xtra.co.nz if you are interested in helping.

The next steps will be installing bait stations across the whole block for rodents and possums and intensive predator control, including Timms traps, at another shorebird breeding site and seven lizard habitat sites along the escarpment.  This will begin as soon as we can raise the cash.

All this is part of a draft 10 year biodiversity management plan we are currently discussing with the Council.  Other activities include fencing about 3 kilometres of river from stock, and the restoration of wetlands, riparian strips, inanga spawning habitat and shorebird breeding areas.  All of this will require a lot of community involvement and will not be cheap – costing in the order of $350,000 – $400,000.  This is a lot of money, but other projects is the region have cost about the same order of magnitude, if not more, with Mana Island being a case in point. -We are now talking with the Council about who will pay for what.

Baring Head has become almost a spiritual place for me.  I have also come to appreciate the ecological and recreational assets of the Wainuomata valley and what a wider, holistic approach to its natural environment could mean to the local community in terms of economic and social wellbeing.  Let’s say I discuss those ideas in another blog?