Greetings from New Zealand


GWCT's Head of Farmland Ecology Professor John Holland explains how farming and conservation has changed on his return to New Zealand 

I have been fortunate enough to be able to return to where I did my PhD almost 30 years ago.

In those days, the country was still covered with sheep (almost 40 million), but numbers were falling from the peak of 70 million in 1982. This decline was primarily due to the removal of farm subsidies that had far-reaching effects across the whole of the economy and the farming landscape. The main change since then has been a switch to dairy and beef cattle with 6.4 and 3.6 million, respectively.

As I drove from Auckland near the top of the North Island down to Christchurch in the South Island, the changes are plain to see. Where once there were large open areas with sheep grazing, a farming system that to my eyes blended in with the wilder parts, there are now smaller fields (paddocks) with huge irrigation systems, dense herds of cows and is some places box-shaped windbreaks.

Commercial forestry with clear felling also predominates in some areas. It all makes for quite a messy looking landscape. In these ways, NZ parallels more with the US, where conservation is primarily reserved for the National Parks and agricultural land is intensively managed for production, with little native habitat.

There are of course exceptions, but the Canterbury plains, for example, have 0.5% of native vegetation remaining. This, though, is the reality of farming without subsidies and being exposed to world market forces. All of these changes have inevitably come with some environmental consequences and, of great concern over here now, is the impact on water quality, with this even being picked up in the British press.

As we approach Brexit there may be lessons that we can take from how agriculture has developed here and the implications for the environment and I will be looking more into this over the next couple of months.

The other big change is that I don’t recall seeing many British birds 30 years ago, but now they seem to be everywhere, even in some of the remoter parts of the bush. The early settlers introduced 130 bird species with 41 still remaining, of which blackbird, house sparrow, starling, song thrush and chaffinch being the most common in gardens. There is even a garden bird watch that was established in 2007 based upon the one conducted in the UK, which is now run by one of the Trust's previous PhD students, Catriona MacCleod.

This has revealed that, as in the UK, more species are decreasing compared to those that are increasing, although some are on the increase, including greenfinch. Worryingly, the most common native species, the Silvereye, has declined by 44% over the past 10 years, while overall four out of five native species are threatened. New Zealand also struggles with invasive species and especially the four-legged predators (stoats and rats especially) along with possums that decimate the native trees and can take bird eggs and chicks, whilst also spreading bovine TB.

New Zealand has started the process of aiming to become predator free by 2050 and it will be fascinating to follow the process to see if and how this can be achieved (something to look forward to in old age!). There will be much the UK can learn if we want to do the same for mink.



Scottish Scottish overnment targets all for trees & turbines but zero tolerance for traditional hill faming, our shepherded hills hefted hardy hill heep & those who tended them.....

at 5:33 on 19/01/2018 by M.V. Armstrong

SCOTLANDs hills...where NO MORE...sheep may safely graze...neither goats nor RED nor FALLOW deer NEIITHER ...Landscape lost & cultural heritage too...FC foretry commission the CULPRITS .... THE B ...... ALL OF THE END ALL Environmentally & culturally ALL ROUND Catasrtophe too

NZ Predators

at 12:45 on 04/01/2018 by Nick

I was interested to read Mr Neil Hayes' comments. I 'm sure he is much better versed in NZ wildlife than me.but... I have a son who is a large animal vet out there and have met and got to know a number of the farmers and wildlife folk out there who are pro the use of 10/80. If Mr Hayes' assertion that 10/80 kills all invertebrates was true then how come there are any invertebrates left in WA where this poison occurs naturally! Maybe they are all immune¬! I wonder if he could be more specific as to which of the native NZ fauna species are being pushed to extinction by the use of 10/80. His sensational assertion that continual aerial bombardment of 1080; which now has nothing whatever to do with predator control should also be questioned. What does he think is going on if not predator control. As I understand it, this poison is only of limited toxicity to Humans, if at all! I would also question his assertion that all the lakes and rivers are so polluted that swimming is banned. Now that may be true of a few but certainly none that I have come across.and swum and fished in. Also while I understand his comments on the dairy industry and fully appreciate his concerns especially about ground water supplies on my last trip it was notable that many of the dairy farmers are now taking steps to address this problem building heir own reservoirs and dams and creating lakes. Ground water abstraction is undoubtedly a big problem especially in a run of dry seasons such as has been experienced in NZ in the past few years.

The NZ Environment

at 19:34 on 03/01/2018 by NEIL HAYES QSM PhD CEnv FRSA

The NZ environment has changed dramatically over the last 70-years! During this period over 70% of our endemic forests have been destroyed, 60% of our natural wetlands have been drained and today all our lakes and rivers are so polluted that swimming is banned. Much of the pollution has been generated by dairy farming, plus a massive population growth that has ensured that our sewerage systems can't cope! But this is not the worst environmental scenario - it is the continual aerial bombardment of 1080; which now has nothing whatever to do with predator control and is a billion dollar industry! 1080 has pushed numerous endemic and endangered bird species towards a very premature extinction - because 1080 eliminates all species of invertebrates, as well as directly poisoning birds of all species. On top of this our Dept of Conservation has spent over $30 million attempting to create better predator traps then the FENN and the NZ made "TIMMS" trap. I have just completed a paper covering the use of predator traps and 1080 and I'm happy to email this to all interested in what's happening down here.

Predators in New Zealand

at 12:27 on 03/01/2018 by Nick

John Holland's essay on NZ wildlife and its native flora and fauna coincides with my take on what is happening over there. Their method for getting rid of the non native 4 legged predators is takeing the same approach as that of western Australia when they needed to get rid of rabbits (& foxes) In WA they had a naturally occurring poison called 10/80 to which all the native species especially all the native birds, kangaroos etc are immune but not the introduced ones. That meant that they could spread 10/80 about in large quantities and kill only the target species. This has been done to great effect in WA where there is now hardly a rabbit to be seen. There are still some foxes because they do not eat the grain based bait as readily as the rabbits. In NZ the same scenario is true. The native birds are immune to this poison and there are no native mammals in NZ apart from a single bat species. . When I was last there they were dropping baits on a grid pattern in the bush and forest areas from helicopters. The early results were promising with large reductions in the numbers of stoats and weasels in particular. I am less sure on the effect on possums which are an Eastern Australian species. I'm sure it will also have an effect on the hedgehogs, which although they are not at the moment seen as too much of problem there are a lot of them. So what can we learn from this experiment. My answer at the moment is not a great deal because we could not introduce 10/80 here as it would kill out almost all our native birds. I'd love to hear what other more knowledgeable than I have to say.

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