Restoring New Zealand's Habitats

CASE STUDY: Conservation


Glen Riley lives and breathes conservation, and as the Founder of Habitat Restorations Aotearoa and the Coordinator at New Zealand’s largest privately owned Wetland, Sinclair Wetlands, Glen is on the forefront of New Zealand’s conservation efforts. Whether it’s checking and setting trap lines, planting native trees, working in the native plant nursery, or educating future generations, Glen is constantly working to protect our natural environment.

Can you tell us a bit about Habitat Restoration Aotearoa and your work on the Sinclair Wetlands?

Habitat Restorations Aotearoa provides ecological restoration services and consulting. With a passion for the unique ecosystems found in NZ and using sensitive techniques, we aim to convert what has become the minority into the majority when it comes to biodiversity.

Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau Sinclair Wetlands is regarded as NZ’s largest privately owned wetland, located 50km south-west of Dunedin and managed by a charitable trust. As on-site coordinator I am responsible for the daily implementation of the restoration project which covers 315 hectares of once drained wetland. With a focus on healthy habitat and relying on community support the project now achieves an average of 5,000 native trees planted per year, over 4,000 volunteer hours and engagement from over 500 school children each year.

Our future vision is that Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau is a restored wetland ecosystem that is ecologically diverse and nationally known for sustainable practices, community involvement and as an important Ngāi Tahu Mahinga Kai. We are committed to careful and thoughtful stewardship/kaitiakitanga of the important environment entrusted to us, and will work actively to ensure that it is enhanced for future generations to use and enjoy.

What is a Wetland?

Wetlands have long been looked at as wastelands but wetlands are essential. Wetlands protect us from flooding and erosion and are carbon sinks and natural water filters. Wetlands are areas of land with a high water table and host more wildlife than any other habitat type! In NZ 25% of our native birds are found in wetlands, 30% of our freshwater fish and over 450 native plant species. Wetlands provide many cultural and recreational values and despite all this we have sadly destroyed more than 90% of these precious ecosystems in Aotearoa.

What’s special about the land at the Sinclair Wetlands?

Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau Sinclair Wetlands has seen varying land uses over time. In pre-European times the area was highly valued as a place for gathering food and resources and became an important refuge for Ngati Mamoe chief ‘Tukiauau’. On European arrival food was also the focus, however, the land was drained and farmed until Horrie Sinclair purchased the property in 1960. Today, the land is owned by Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu and the major aim is to protect, restore, and promote the spiritual, physical, ecological, cultural, and other values of the land and water, while also allowing for harvest of natural resources.

What efforts do you take to eradicate pests from the wetland?

New Zealand has a long list of introduced mammalian predators and the wetland is threatened by them all. Whilst we can’t prevent them from arriving, we can prevent them from thriving. An extensive trapping regime is in place, protecting the heart and boundaries of the wetlands. We’ve noticed since clearing high numbers of mustelids (weasels, stoats and ferrets) that these catches have now reduced, however, the offset is that rat and rabbit numbers have increased. The majority of our predator control is achieved by trapping, some night shooting and every 3-4 years we engage an external contractor to carry out ‘pindone poison’ control of rabbits.

How has this affected the wildlife in the area?

It is amazing how fast the birdlife returns with regular and consistent predator control in place. The Mātātā/Fernbird has made a strong comeback and they’re now widely distributed. In recent times we’ve also been delighted to see the return of the Koitareke and Pūweto (marsh and spotless crakes) which had been absent from the area for some time. This doesn’t mean we’re ‘out of the woods’ yet, instead we need to continually apply predator pressure.

What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to pest control and conservation?

‘Resourcing’ is always a challenge. One person divided by 315 hectares and splitting your time between native plantings, plant maintenance, trapping, shooting, native plant nursery, running education and engagement programmes, coordination and social media means you need to be pretty flexible! Weeds and pests are also super clever so it’s important to be able to understand the eco-system and the connections and create ways of outsmarting the challenges.

Can you talk us through an average day in Your life?

In simple terms, a typical work day will always involve the establishment of something native and the removal of something non-native and sharing these concepts with someone new. In other words, each day I’m accompanied by a local school, club, business, volunteer or voluntourist. You’ll find us out planting trees or maintaining previous plantings, controlling plant or animal pests, generating native seedlings in the native plant nursery or creating/maintaining new and existing structures/walkways throughout the reserve. This work is never ‘finished’, but we’re continually striving to protect what belongs here in Aotearoa.

What are three essentials you take every time you head out to explore the land and check bait stations?

Wherever I am, I always ensure I have my pocket screwdriver, lure/bait and my cellphone. These three things will always ensure we’re moving in the right direction. My screwdriver allows me to clear any trap I come across which has been sprung, many of the traps are ‘single set’ so aren’t capable of catching again until re-set. Also, a fresh scent is vital for trapping so clearing them as soon as possible and applying new lure is the key to successful predator control. Finally, the cellphone is my mobile office and the link in tying everything together, each day there’s calls and emails from people wanting to get involved and my answer is always ‘yes’ – miss a call or email and people soon give their attention elsewhere. Also, the phone camera is pretty handy for reporting, monitoring and keeping social media updated and it’s pretty handy from a health and safety aspect too.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone getting into conservation and pest eradication?

Play the long game, there are no ‘instant fixes’ or miracle answers. Starting out is a transition, so keep applying pressure and use your energy as an ally with natural systems.

How do you involve the community in your conservation efforts?

Conservation doesn’t exist without the community; we rely on the physical mahi, ideas, skills and solutions and financial support of the community. Our conservation community extends globally, our volun-tourism programme has become extremely popular and people come from all over the world to learn about and help restore Te Nohoaka o Tukiauau Sinclair Wetlands. For this work to gain continuity we engage the next generation of kaitiaki and expose hundreds of school kids annually to the project in an effort to inspire our future eco-caretakers. Clubs, groups and business are also keen to lend a hand and offer their hands for restoration mahi, services like web design and financial contributions alike. These partnerships require nurturing and it’s important to ensure both parties are mutually benefitting.

What does conservation mean to you?

To me conservation is about using current knowledge, tools and techniques to turn around the problems or changes we’ve introduced to our land and waterways. We need food, farms, freshwater and taonga species and we can enable all to coexist. We, and native species belong here and it’s up to us to maintain the balance.

What do you do in your free time?

My free time is often spent outdoors, exploring, walking, running, tramping, mountain biking and kayaking other reserves and eco-systems. As well as providing my entertainment it also helps me gain further understanding of nature’s connections and processes. I’m not very good at being ‘indoors’ but do enjoy playing squash.

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