Forest & Bird members flock

At the North Island Gathering are, from left, Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague, Rodney MP Mark Mitchell and Forest & Bird’s Campaigns and Advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell. The National MP says there was open and honest discussion on many environmental issues.

The Hibiscus Coast branch of Forest & Bird hosted the organisation’s North Island conference for the first time last month.

Seventy members took part in the event, held at Shakespear Regional Park on November 11–13.

Chair Anne Graham says that one of the highlights was Rodney MP Mark Mitchell putting away his speech notes and instead inviting recently appointed chief executive Kevin Hague (a former Green Party MP) to share the stage and take questions from attendees.

Forest & Bird members expressed their concerns about issues such as DOC funding cuts and the disconnect between the public perception of the state of the environment, and the reality. There was also discussion about how a tourism levy could help pay for making NZ predator free.

The conference also heard about the work of the local branch, which has mobilised community support behind the Pest Free Peninsula project. Started in 2013, the project now involves 55 regular volunteers managing 800 bait stations. Residents, large landowners and schools have come on board.

Open Sanctuary senior ranger Matt Maitland spoke about the creation of the predator proof fence and the work that is underway to restore populations of native species.

Kevin Hackwell, Forest & Bird’s Campaigns and Advocacy Manager, gave an overview of the Predator Free NZ concept, saying that the ability to eradicate pests has increased tenfold, in terms of land area, since 1960. He said that Predator Free NZ is achievable, and it’s great to see it as formal government policy. However, he voiced concerns about the public/private partnership model.

The other major theme was the marine environment, with marine biologist and photographer Dr Roger Grace speaking about why more ‘no take’ zones are needed. His research on species inside and outside Tawharanui marine reserve demonstrates that when their habitat is protected, there is a huge increase in crayfish numbers and the health of the reef recovers.

Forest & Bird marine advocate Katrina Goddard gave members an update about her work on the Hauraki Gulf Spatial Plan (Sea Change) project, which will see proposals for new marine reserves and marine protected areas out for community consultation. She also provided a sneak preview of Forest & Bird’s new Best Fish Guide, a mobile app that helps consumers choose to buy sustainable seafood.

Anne Graham thanks all the volunteers who assisted with the running of the event, saying that the whole branch did themselves proud.