Third record on the trot for Hawke’s Bay kiwi conservation programme

A “bloody fantastic” kiwi breeding season in the Hawke’s Bay back-blocks has seen the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust deliver a record 94 viable eggs to the National Kiwi Hatchery in Rotorua as part of the national Operation Nest Egg conservation drive.

This is the third kiwi-related record in a row for the trust, which returned 53 juvenile kiwi to the Hawke’s Bay hinterland following its 2020/2021 egg-lifting season, the most to date. These came from 63 viable eggs, the greatest number it had lifted to that point.

“We have every confidence that, as a result of the huge number of eggs we retrieved this season, we’ll be putting yet another record number of birds back into the bush this year,” said Barry Crene, the trust’s resident ‘kiwi whisperer’.

The trust now has 62 ‘tagged’ kiwi at Maungataniwha, more than ever before. But this alone doesn’t account for the large number of eggs retrieved this season.

Mr Crene said the 2021/2022 egg-lifting season had been “incredible, just amazing” because it had rained all spring in the Maungataniwha Native Forest, driving food to the surface where it could easily be reached by hungry kiwi.

“All of the viable eggs we picked up were large and in primo nick,” he said. “Some of our top breeders were pushing out more eggs than they usually do – sometimes as many as four over both clutches.

“It was phenomenal – I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Kiwi lay eggs in two clutches. This season Mr Crene and the FLRT team retrieved 55 eggs in the first clutch alone – more than the total number of chicks returned to the wild by the trust in the 2020/2021 season.

The trust achieved a self-sustaining kiwi population on its property in the Maungataniwha Native Forest in 2017 and has since been using juveniles sourced as eggs from there to stock its second property, Pohokura, mid-way between Taupo and Napier. It aims to release up to 200 kiwi at Pohokura by 2024. The first, the 300th bird resulting from the trust’s conservation work, was released in 2019.

Re-establishing kiwi at Pohokura supports the long-term goal of the national Kiwi Recovery Plan; to reach 100,000 kiwi by 2030 through growing populations of all kiwi species by at least two percent a year, restoring them to their former distribution and maintaining their genetic diversity.

Establishing a population of around 100 pairs of Eastern Brown kiwi within five years at Pohokura will make a significant contribution towards the ongoing recovery of this species, trust Chairman Simon Hall said.

For the first three years a sample of kiwi released each year at Pohokura were fitted with radio-transmitters so that their dispersal and survival could be monitored. All of the monitored kiwi survived.

Mr Hall said he hoped Pohokura would ultimately help re-populate neighbouring areas with kiwi.

“Just as Maungataniwha can now be the source of kiwi to re-stock Pohokura, so we hope that ultimately Pohokura kiwi will make their way naturally to neighbouring areas such as the Whirinaki Conservation Forest, which is also being made safe for them.”

The Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust has carved out a name for itself as one of the most successful kiwi conservation initiatives in the country. Mr Hall said its work with kiwi could not happen without the help and investment from its conservation partners, particularly the Cape Sanctuary, the National Kiwi Hatchery and its funder Ngāi Tahu, the Department of Conservation and Save the Kiwi, the only national charity dedicated to protecting kiwi.

“Kiwi conservation is not just about partnerships, it’s about community,” Mr Hall said. “It’s about friends, neighbours and our volunteers banding together to protect our national icon. Frequently in the dark and the cold and the pouring rain. They do it for love – literally.”

Michelle Impey, executive director of Save the Kiwi, said the work the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust had done over the past 15 years was “incredible”.

“They are one of the most prolific contributors of eggs to Operation Nest Egg, which is a massive achievement,” she said.

“They have also done a huge amount of work on predator control and habitat restoration, both of which are essential yet frequently thankless tasks in kiwi conservation. The combination of all of this work has resulted in an accelerated growth of the kiwi population in this project area and it’s fantastic to see that the Trust is now reaping the rewards.

“Save the Kiwi is proud to work alongside Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust to boost the kiwi population in the eastern region, and we hope the coming season will be just as successful.”

In addition to the Maungataniwha Kiwi Project the Trust runs a series of native flora and fauna regeneration projects. These include a drive to increase the wild-grown population of Kakabeak (Clianthus maximus), an extremely rare type of shrub, and the re-establishment of native plants and forest on 4,000 hectares currently, or until recently, under pine.

About the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust

The Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust was established in 2006 to provide direction and funding for the restoration of threatened species of fauna and flora, and to restore the ngahere mauri (forest lifeforce) in native forests within the Central North Island.It runs eight main regeneration and restoration projects, involving native New Zealand flora and fauna, on three properties in the central North Island. It also owns a property in the South Island’s Fiordland National Park.

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