MIRO on the right track

The Hutt News | Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Award for years of pest control, bird monitoring work

Hutt News, 11 November, 2008 | MIRO volunteers at annual barbecue, Days Bay, 9 November 2008

MIRO volunteers at annual barbecue, Days Bay, 9 November 2008.

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THE 60 or so volunteers of MIRO (Mainland Island Restoration Operation) don't see that much of each other.  Their work clearing possum and rat traps and monitoring native bird numbers over a 1300 hectare area of East Harbour Regional Park is mostly done in pairs or in small groups.

"Everyone is off on different tracks," MIRO's bird expert Kevin Bateman explains.  "We keep in touch by email."

So MIRO's annual barbecue, put on each year by their partner in conservation work, Greater Wellington Regional Council, is a looked-forward-to occasion.  The event last Sunday was cause for even more celebration because three days earlier in a GWRC ceremony to honour environmental champions, MIRO was named joint winner of the Rata Community Partnership Award with Friends of Maara Roa.

Award citations said MIRO's pest control work in East Harbour Regional Park has made a huge difference.  Over the last four years alone, some 1,850 possums have been removed, "equating to a saving of 500kg of leaves, flowers and fruit every night".  Earlier this year MIRO won Department of Conservation permission to reintroduce 40 North Island robin (Toutouwai) into the park - the first time that the bird species has been seen in the district for a century.

Friends of Maara Roa have been undertaking bush restoration and predator control in Belmont Regional Park and the adjoining Cannons Creek Lakes Reserve since 1999 "and (it's) already making a considerable difference," the GWRC says.  Native trees are returning thanks to a rigorous planting programme; pest animals and weeds have been great reduced; new tracks have been developed to enhance public access; the freshwater wetland has been improved.

"Although undertaking quite different projects, the two groups scored highest in all the assessment criteria, and judges were unable to separate them," the council says.

At the same ceremony, the recycling and environmental awareness projects carried out at Muritai School were recognised by a Merit Award in the schools' category.

As well as the kudos, MIRO gets $500 to put towards restoration projects such as the four areas of native plantings that volunteers are spearheading on farmland surrounding Pencarrow's inland lakes, Kohangapiripiri and Kohangatera.  The idea there, says Kevin Bateman, is to get enough plants growing to attract birds back, and then let nature take its course spreading new seed.

MIRO started possum trapping a decade ago and now there's a network of fixed traplines and rat bait stations.  Over that time, the number of possums trapped has fallen from 27 per 100 traps to an average of 1.8.  Below five, it's expected that the forest gets the opportunity to recover.

While that's magnificent progress, Kevin admits trapping will probably have to go on "forever and a day" to stay on top of the pest.  Possums can always continue to invade the recovering EHRP forest from surrounding areas.

His special interest is the reintroduction of toutouwai.  The aim was to release 40 of the rare robin earlier this year but "eight weeks of solid rain" thwarted efforts to catch that many at Bushy Park, Wanganui.  However, the release of just over 20 in the hills above Eastbourne in June and July is a great start and after the coming summer breeding season is over, MIRO volunteers will go back to Wanganui to try to translocate some more.

Could other native birds be reintroduced into East Harbour Regional Park?  Kiwi, for example?  "It's not the right terrain for kiwi," Kevin replies.  "Unlike Rimutaka, there's not the logs for burrowing."  That's not to say they couldn't be in EHRP but stoat numbers would have to be watched.

"When the robin project works, and if DoC was happy, we could look at other birds."  Maybe saddlebacks or stitchbirds.

Kevin's dream would be for this 'mainland island' "to be a Karori wildlife sanctuary but without the fence.  There's no end to the possibilities.

"Maybe (we could have) moas, huia," he grins.

 More planting and possum trapping volunteers are always needed.  Or if you don't like dealing with dead pests, you could be a bird monitor.  Email gail_abel@xtra.co.nz