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               POHUTUKAWA TRUST NEW ZEALAND

                                  

              To rehabilitate the native flora and fauna of Kawau Island

              To promote the conservation of indigenous species in New Zealand

 

 

 

HISTORY OF POHUTUKAWA TRUST NEW ZEALAND

(Operations Manual Section 6)

 Pohutukawa Trust New Zealand (the Trust) was founded in 1992 as a community project by private landowners of Kawau Island for the purpose of restoring the Islandís ecology and returning the land to a state of sustainable land use. The project was initiated by concerned landowners in the community to meet their goals and balance the Department of Conservationís focus on restoration and conservation of historic heritage sites on the public land on the Island. At the time, the Departmentís stated assessment was that compared with other areas Kawau does not stack up. The Island was considered to be important historically rather than botanically. Management plans for the Historic Reserve included retention of wallabies on the Island with an undertaking to build escape-proof fences to contain the animals, thereby making the Pohutukawa Trust objectives possible. The objectives depend upon humanely removing the browsing feral animals possum and wallaby, and the  landowners considered the feral wallabies to be the most serious problem.    

The integrity of the Kawau Island ecology had collapsed due primarily to the presence of browsing and predator animal pests. It was said that the ecological changes caused by these animals cannot now be reversed, but the landowners did not accept this view. 

Intense browsing by the Australian marsupials possum and four species of wallaby introduced by Sir George Grey in 1868-69 has had a devastating impact on the Islandís flora, the consequence being destroyed habitat and food supply of indigenous birds and invertebrates, and erosion and loss of the skeletal soils to the surrounding marine environment where marine organisms are then smothered by the high sediment load. The residence time of stormwater on the Island is short because nearly all of the palatable water-holding understorey has been browsed out of existence. Without the usual leaf litter cushion the browsing animals compacted the land surface in many places, causing a loss of surface permeability to absorb water. There is also insufficient organic content remaining in the soil to provide moisture retention and structure, and the ion exchange necessary to sustain good soil fertility. Stream habitats are also compromised by a wide flow range and high sediment load.

Weed species unpalatable to the browsing animals have invaded areas of the land which would otherwise be bare, and in many places the ground is bare. About 15% of the land area is invaded by wilding pinus species, the legacy of Sir George Greyís plantings in the 1860ís and seed since carried from west to east by the prevailing westerly wind. The wilding pines are a serious weed on the Island. 

Sustainable land use became impossible and planting limited to inside netting fence exclosures.  Predator animals including rats, stoats, and feral cats were also identified. The stoats first invaded the Island in 1988 - 1989 and are spreading quickly. They arrived by swimming the 1.5 kilometres from the mainland at Tawharanui.

To balance the conservation interests in the historic resources of the Island a group of private landowners saw potential to rehabilitate the native flora and fauna and a need to return the Island to a state of sustainable land use for the longer term future of the community, including small scale horticulture and domestic gardens.

With this background the private landowners who own 90% of the land area commenced a major restoration project. Pohutukawa Trust New Zealand is responsible for the project.

The Kawau project had beginnings long ago in 1938, when a young Auckland builder Albert E, Follas of Takapuna sailed his yacht Waiapu from Auckland to Kawau for his summer holidays. The departure could be described as somewhat ďstormyĒ because Albert had left his young wife Mais behind and spent a portion of the money they had saved for essential needs and a family on new sails for his boat. Sailing through the Rosario Channel to the south of Kawau a large patch of dead pohutukawa trees was observed on the Kawau coast at Bostaquet Bay.

Follas was very concerned about this and passed the observations on to the University of Auckland when he returned. He continued to visit Kawau for a further 53 years, making his last visit in 1990. Not until the early 1950ís when Bert Follas and Ray Weaver met at Kawau was the cause of the declining pohutukawa unravelled. Weaver had an interest in minerals on Kawau at the time and he had also noted stands of dead pohutukawa with similar concerns and photographed some of them. By then the number of dead trees had increased considerably in a sequence spreading up the south-eastern quadrant of the Island. Weaver and Follas shared their concerns from that time and became lifelong friends until Albert died in September 2000. Confirmation of the cause came during studies where comparison was made between land at Bostaquet Bay on Kawau and on close by Challenger Island. The difference was that surprisingly, possums and wallabies had not established on adjacent Challenger Island, which is very close to Kawau, and there was no sign of the tree and vegetation damage there. Further examination revealed dark marks up the butress roots of the Bostaquet Bay pohutukawa, defining the route that possums were taking, and it was not long before animals were seen taking these routes up the trees in the evening.  The cause had been positively identified.

Weaver was studying the Kawau geology during the 1950ís and was in contact with the Commissioner of Crown Lands.

He wrote the following letter to the Commissioner (transcribed from a carbon copy):

 

181 Church Street

Onehunga

AUCKLAND

18th April 1955

The Commissioner of Crown Lands

Auckland District Office

P O Box 2206

AUCKLAND

Attention Mr Basil King.

Dear Mr King,

Thank you for your letter of 15th April. I enclose a Postal Note for one shilling as requested.

The photographs I sent you showing dead trees at Bostaquet Bay Kawau Island cost £ 2.12.6, and I assumed that the shilling would not be required.

I have determined beyond doubt that the trees were killed by opossums on the Island, not a disease as you suggested. Wallabies destroy almost all of the seedlings, and now the opossums have started to attack the larger trees, mostly the pohutukawa, so far as I have seen at the moment.

What is happening on Kawau Island is a serious problem and there is a lot to learn I think, for New Zealand, before the problems become more widespread elsewhere.         

Could you please pass the comments and photographs on as a starting point so that those able to do so can investigate the serious problem further.

Yours faithfully

Ray Weaver

There was no interest from Government agencies in following-up the concerns and observations reported in the letter and over the next two decades large numbers of pohutukawa both on the coastal fringe and in the interior of the Island were destroyed in an advancing pattern from south to north. Concurrently with the destruction of the native flora bird numbers plummeted quickly from 1960 onwards. Studies of the possum and wallaby problem and possible solutions continued and an awareness was developing in the Kawau community.

By 1985 there was a good understanding of the problem on Kawau and Weaver instigated an approach to the New Zealand Forest Service to seek assistance.

A response from the New Zealand Forest Service, dated 14 November 1985 contains the following key conclusions:

ďThe pohutukawa die-back is not as simply attributed to possums as many people believe.

I can offer no easy solution. Certainly the Forest Service could only consider possum and wallaby control on Crown lands of Kawau Island, mainly the Hauraki  Gulf Maritime Park Board land. We rate Kawau very low on our scale of priority for  protection of ecological values.

Kawau Island has no particular significance for its botany nor for its native wildlife values: its landscape is highly modified by both human exploitation and introduced animals over the past 150 years or more.

There is no easy or lasting solution to the marsupial problems on Kawau Island or anywhere else. Effective control is horribly expensive. I believe in the end we must face the facts: we are witnessing well adapted introduced animals occupying their  ecological niche in a new country. On Kawau the spectacular modifications caused by these animals attaining their niche are almost complete. So protection of some representative natural values, such as bush gullies or even individual trees is the only practical course of action: it is hopeless to contemplate more extreme measures  in the Kawau Island situation."

The Forest Service also reported to the Rodney County Council of the time, and on 19 December 1985 the Council adopted recommendations from the Service including:

That the ecological changes on Kawau Island caused by possums and wallabies cannot now be reversed.  

The front page of the New Zealand Herald on Friday 20 December 1985 followed on and carried the main article stating that:

If no major pest control work was carried out the pohutukawa would disappear from Kawau by 1990.

With basic technology well developed by then from pioneering local work, and following the negative response in the letter of November 1985 from the Forest Service, a proposal was made to take community action, and a meeting of landowners was arranged. The meeting took place on 12 April 1986 at the Kawau Island Yacht Club. A paper was presented outlining the problems and the first stage of the community plan was introduced to reverse the decline of pohutukawa and restore the ecology. The newly developed Timms Kill Traps were introduced and a distribution network was set up on the Island with the traps stocked by William C (Bill) Schumacher J. P. of Hokimai Bay.  This was one of the first large scale uses of Timms Traps for a project such as this and approximately 250 units were distributed and brought into action. The traps decisively saved all remaining pohutukawa trees by removal of almost 10,000 possums over a 5 year period. Meanwhile two visits were made to the island sanctuary Hauturu (Little Barrier) to gain inspiration and insight into what the landowners might be able to achieve on Kawau Island if the browsing marsupials and other predators were removed.  The project became a 1990 Commission Official Project (No 2818) in the year the pohutukawa bloomed again after more than 20 years of decline.

In 1990 a poster exercise was organised for Correspondence School children of the District to further raise awareness. Distinctively labelled pots of watercolour poster paint in the three primary colours were distributed to the children and the picture of a Tui on Pohutukawa in bloom which was drawn for the label, became the logo of the Pohutukawa Trust New Zealand.

Seeds were harvested from the 1990 flowering and used to produce eco-sourced plants for revegetation on the nearby island Tiritiri Matangi, as well as for planting 800 new pohutukawa trees on Kawau. Saving the pohutukawa was seen by the landowners as the essential first step in the restoration strategy. The Trust was founded to build on this community success and to move on to the next and essential phase of humane wallaby removal. The overarching purpose of the Trust was to provide ongoing leadership and a structure to continue indefinitely through the processes of fundraising, animal and weed pest removal, revegetation in some areas, reintroduction of lost species of native birds, and a return to sustainable land use in an integrated process of restoration of the flora and fauna. Each of these phases were seen as strategic interdependent steps in the process of restoration of the ecosystems, and not an end in themselves.  

A key task was to raise awareness of the problems and to develop confidence among supporters that it was possible to remedy them in spite of the persistent official advice to the contrary. Significant technology was developing, support was growing, success and progress was being demonstrated and fundraising by donation commenced to secure a long term future and direction with formation of a legal entity.  

The Pohutukawa Trust New Zealand was incorporated in 1992, and launched by the first Mayor of Rodney District Sir Gordon Mason O.B.E.  J.P. at a meeting of the Rodney District Council on 26 March 1992. 

The vision, technology and resources have been developed and funded by Kawau Island landowners and landowner supporters. The Foundation Members of the Board are E R(Ray) Weaver, W C(Bill) Schumacher, H M(Helen) Smith, R K(Ken) McCormack, and C E(Colin) Spanhake.

Bronze plaques were made displaying the logo to promote the Trust.

In 1995 a survey of members was conducted to determine the Trustís priority direction, and to commence a general inventory of the main native plants known and weed species present.

The survey indicated that 98% of members supported the humane removal of wallabies as a priority.

By May 1996 the Trust had raised (mostly from the Kawau Island community) all finance for operations plus the sum of  $18,500 in the bank.

Members of the Board Colin Spanhake and Bill Schumacher observed the return of rare brown teal Pateke to the Island at Hokimai Bay in 1992. The return of brown teal is believed to be in direct response to the Trustís possum control operations. There have also been observations of increasing kereru, kaka, tui, bellbird and kiwi numbers. and many pohutukawa and other seedlings have emerged that had not been seen for many decades.

Foundation members of the Board Colin Spanhake and Bill Schumacher died in 2004.

 The Trust's current assets (31 March 2005) have been grown to $86,700, which is approximately half the amont required to complete the essential animal pest eradication phase of the project.

 

Pohutukawa Trust New Zealand

Registered Office

24 Umere Crescent

Ellerslie

Auckland

 

Copyright 1951-2005 E.R. Weaver Pohutukawa Trust New Zealand

                                         

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