Managing KNEs in Greater Wellington

Since 2000, Key Native Ecosystems (KNEs) have been defined as areas of prime native habitat of regional significance situated on private land. They are primarily native forest remnants but also include wetlands, dune lands and coastal escarpments with significant native flora and fauna values.

 

Since 2000, Key Native Ecosystems (KNEs) have been defined as areas of prime native habitat of regional significance situated on private land. They are primarily native forest remnants but also include wetlands, dune lands and coastal escarpments with significant native flora and fauna values.

The first branded KNE programmes got under way in 1996 and were almost solely focused on possum control in territorial authority reserves such as Otari-Wiltons Bush in Wellington and Porirua Scenic Reserve at Porirua. The programme developed to include more and more sites, including areas of private land, and became more diverse in an attempt to include other pest species in a larger range of natural habitats and ecosystems, such as wetlands and coastal escarpments.

In 2000 it was decided a more robust process for setting priorities was needed. A review resulted in the formation of the Greater Wellington Biodiversity Co-ordinating Group, which today provides the framework for ecosystem and biodiversity management.

The Biosecurity KNE programme is land focused, but is only one of several Greater Wellington (GW) ecosystem management programmes. Others include environmental education, riparian, wetlands, marine and rivers.

 

Identifying and selecting sites

In 2000, a satellite imagery system that allowed classification of land cover became available. This was used to determine 7280 individual forest or scrub remnants larger than one hectare. Each site was given a priority score based on a range of factors, such as forest/vegetation class, size, natural character, distinctiveness and importance. The priority scores provided an ability to rank sites and created a focus to try and include the top sites in work programmes.

Of note is the fact that all of the lowland native bush sites that had already made the KNE programme were significantly ranked, justifying their early inclusion.

Areas administered by DOC are excluded from the KNE programme as they are managed separately under its Conservation Management Strategy. Unless Crown agencies agree to be bound to, and contribute to the implementation of the Regional Pest Management Strategy through an Order in Council, the Key Native Ecosystem programme will not apply to Crown land.

 

Objectives for KNE management

The objective for KNE management is to achieve a measurable improvement in the ecological health and diversity of sites using a range of suitable management techniques, including the following means:

• Ensure KNE are legally protected into perpetuity
• Establish and implement integrated pest management plans for all KNEs
• Undertake direct control by service delivery of pests identified in the management plan for each KNE
• Facilitate the involvement of community groups where appropriate
• Co-ordinate site management with other biodiversity initiatives where possible
• Use biological control agents where appropriate, and support relevant biological control research initiatives
• Monitor site recovery using a range of ecological indicators
• Manage external pressures that are inconsistent with KNE management objectives
• Provide public education and advice to foster awareness of the need for biodiversity management.
 

Costs

The budgeted costs for 2008/09 (including overheads) to protect indigenous biodiversity in a comprehensive selection of Key Native Ecosystems is $650,400 (Pest Animals $450,500; Pest Plants $200,000). There are approximately 18,500ha programmed for pest animal treatment for the 2008/09 year.

 

The KNE qualifying process

With growing public interest about biodiversity issues, it was decided to refine the KNE qualifying process so that it was easier to understand for other GW staff who were involved in linking and overlapping biodiversity issues. New KNE sites were only related to legally protected sites on private land. It also was specific in what Greater Wellington would offer by way of service and what was expected of landowners. The new process resulted in a three-tiered assistance programme denoted “Advisory”, “Covenant” and “Key Native Ecosystem”.

 

Programme re-evaluation

A review of the KNE management programme is currently taking place. This review will look at all components of the programme, including goals and priorities, resource allocation, partnership opportunities and funding. This should improve the existing programmes, ensure adequate resource allocation and create improved strategic approaches.

 

The Reserves Programme

Essentially, the Reserves Programme has the same set of objectives as the KNE management programme. Reserves are legally protected under the Reserves Act 1977 and/or the Local Government Act 2002. The allocation of GW resources generally follows the principle of giving priority to the least-modified indigenous habitats.

Where priority ecosystems are identified on territorial authority (TA) land, funding is sought from the TA under the Reserves Programme, to form financial partnerships. These partnerships are recognised through annual agreements that seek to support biodiversity and ecological health by jointly implementing pest animal and plant management plans. The intention of these joint ventures is to share operational costs, appoint proficient contractors, review the plans regularly and to give commitment to maintaining existing operations before commencing new projects.

Most reserves are situated within or adjacent to urban areas. The risk management associated with control measures must be of the highest order and always involves permissions from the public health unit. Appropriate engagement with the community on operational risk issues is also mandatory.

 

Volunteers and care groups

Care groups and volunteers undertake both pest animal and pest plant control in many TA reserves and areas of private land within the region. Volunteers are involved in at least 21 of the 90-plus KNEs, covering approximately 2250ha of forest, wetland, estuary and coastal ecosystems.

Several volunteer groups have grown considerably since their establishment and, having been successful in one area, have moved to challenging new sites. Three of the larger and really dedicated volunteer groups are the Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park Supporters, Upper Hutt Branch of Forest & Bird Society, and the Friends of Tawa Bush Reserves. Successful, dedicated volunteer groups such as these are vital to optimising ecological health in the region.

 

Ecological monitoring

Monitoring is undertaken in a number of selected KNE sites throughout the region. The monitoring has three aims:

• To determine whether environmental outcomes and objectives have been achieved.

• To determine the direction of maintenance programmes with regard to control methods and priorities.

• To provide an operational and performance measure.

Monitoring programmes are undertaken for rodents, possums, mustelids and native birds. Possum, rodent and mustelid monitoring is useful for comparing populations before and after control. Native bird monitoring indicates relative abundance and trends following predator control.

 

Native birds return

Over the past five years there have been a number of newspaper articles concerning native bird species recolonising Wellington, Hutt Valley and Kapiti Coast. Some of the headlines read: “Rare birds sighted at Porirua Reserve”, “Native finds its way back to Porirua after 100 years”, “Tui returns to Miramar”, and “Return of tui to peninsula exciting news”. Certainly, observations of tui and kereru have been to the fore but now there are other native birds in the limelight. Kaka, red-crowned parakeet, whitehead, tomtit and bellbird have all been reported in areas once thought to be devoid of these species. This good news continues and certainly helps maintain enthusiasm for biodiversity projects.

There is no doubt that a spillover effect from the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary as well as some trans-locations by DOC have been part of the reason for the bird comeback but as important has been the ongoing possum and predator control KNE programmes undertaken by Greater Wellington and DOC.

 

 

Ray Clarey
Greater Wellington Regional Council
06 370 5617
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it