An ambitious new conservation project has been the latest recipient of NEXT Foundation support: Project Taranaki Mounga aims to make Egmont National Park the first predator-free national park, creating a haven for native wildlife.
The conical peak of Mount Taranaki dominates the region, surrounded by lush dairy farms and wearing a mantle of national park whose forest reaches up the slopes of the 2500 metre mounga.
The forest is thick with trees like kahikatea, tawa, tōtara, and rātā – in some areas trailing ferns and moss to create a ‘Goblin Forest’ – giving way to mountain cedar and red tussocks in the alpine zone. Rare native birds like North Island brown kiwi, fernbird and blue duck can occasionally be spotted.
But like most areas of New Zealand, much of the native biodiversity has been laid to waste by introduced wild goats, weasels, stoats, possums and rats.
FIGHTING THE INVADERS
NEXT Foundation environment adviser Devon Mclean says New Zealand has been losing biodiversity for a very long time, and “despite the efforts of our communities and DOC and others, we still have not stemmed the decline.”
To combat this, NEXT Foundation has committed to fund a share of an initial 18-month assessment phase of a ten-year project to be carried out with the Department of Conservation.
The project will kick off with pest and weed control over 34,000 hectares which includes Egmont National Park and a small number of volcanic peaks and offshore islands. The huge advantage to the longevity of the project is the surrounding pastureland which turns the mountain into an island.
“The nice thing about this project is while Mount Taranaki doesn’t have a predator proof fence around it, it has this big plain of dairy farms around it,” says McLean. “If we can encourage control over that, so there’s a minimum amount of invasion of predator species into the park, and carry out the pest control on the mountain, then we should get a pretty good outcome.”
Once the pests are under control, threatened and vulnerable birds, bats, plants, fish and invertebrates will be able to flourish.
A COMMUNITY PROJECT
Key to the success of the project is the working partnerships of iwi, the Taranaki community, local councils and the region’s private sector. McLean says this is a great opportunity for a community to get fully engaged in a project of this scale.
“This is an iconic project not just because of the mountain, but also because the community around it is hugely engaged with their mountain. There are 8 iwi in the area, and all of them regard the mountain as an ancestor. And the wider community living around the mountain, it’s a part of their identity, and it’s also a source of freshwater for Taranaki.”
We say we are the mountain and the mountain is us because it is our ancestor says Jamie Tuuta, Taranaki iwi leader.
“We have a responsibility to do our part and it is important that we participate in initiatives which increase the health and wellbeing of our mounga.”
LARGE SCALE CONSERVATION
Project Taranaki Mounga is the next step in NEXT Foundation’s plan to establish models of large scale environmental conservation in New Zealand. Project Taranaki Mounga follows on from the success of other NEXT Foundation related investments, such as creating a conservation park out of Rotoroa Island and Project Janszoon, a privately funded 30 year ecological restoration of Abel Tasman National Park. Project Taranaki Mounga will also make use of the technologies developed by the NEXT Foundation-funded Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP) programme such as novel traps and automated monitoring.
McLean says in terms of conservation efforts, New Zealand needs these projects that operate at huge scale in order to build up the wildlife populations again in a safe environment – so that future generations of New Zealanders can enjoy them.
“I’ve got six grandchildren and I’d like them to grow up to see changes were made, that things are improving, that we’re not still talking about why our biodiversity is declining. That we’re actually seeing that the trend has turned and biodiversity is starting to come up again. That there are birds in our cities, that there’s great birdlife in our conservation estate. If I can do something to help that situation – what they experience – then I’ll feel like I’ve done some good work.”