About 30 people braved squally rain on Sunday, May 9, for a guided tour of Wairio Wetland led by Ducks Unlimited NZ President Ross Cottle and Director Jim Law.
The event was a Rural Women New Zealand annual event to raise money for the Associated Country Women of the World to help fund community projects in developing countries.
Before setting out, Ross and Jim told the visitors about DU’s long involvement with the wetland – from Stage 1, its initial project about 17 years ago through to the latest development in Stage 4.
Ross said the wetland’s only water source in 2005 was courtesy of high wind dumping water into it from Lake Wairarapa to the west, but it didn’t retain it, and the water flowed straight back into the lake.
DU put in a bund wall, which was moderately successful, holding the water through the bird breeding season, but by December, it had dried out.
The next step was to dig down to a lower level to keep the water there longer, which was more successful, holding the water till the birds had bred and fledged. At the same time, DU planted out native species and these are now well established in Stage 1.
From there, it was on to Stage 2 and 3, and every low spot was fenced off with a bund wall.
Stage 3 was handed over to Victoria University because “we wanted some science behind it”, Ross said. It was envisaged that the project would provide a template for wetland restoration.
“Next thing, someone had a bright idea to put in a bund wall” between the three stages and the lake. About two weeks later, a mighty wind blew water in from the lake and “we had 100 acres of water”. After that success, DU extended the bund all the way back to Stage 1.
This was “amazingly successful” and has created a wetland of more than 250 acres of water.
“We were successful beyond our wildest dreams,” Ross said.
Jim said Wairio had been a ground- breaking project, with the Department of Conservation handing over the wetland’s management to DU – at the time it was unheard of for DOC to hand over restoration of its land to a local group.
“It only took us two years to convince DOC to let us spend our money on their land.”
DU has spent more than $200,000 in the past 17 years. About half of this has come from donations, which began rolling in once people saw how Wairio was being transformed and the return of wildlife.
On the 4.2km walk, Jim led the visitors along the bund wall track through Stage 4 of the wetland, where he described DU’s vision of the future – when stands of kahikatea would replace the current open areas of fescue.
With a rainbow in the background, and Ross bringing up the rear in his side-by-side to assist any stragglers, the tour covered Stages 3 and 2 before reaching its conclusion at Stage 1.
On a small detour from the main track to the water’s edge at Stage 4, the group had a preview of the proposed site for a viewing hide which DU has built. It is now waiting for a resource consent to place it on the site.
Birdlife has flourished at Wairio since DU took over, and the number of royal spoonbills, which previously had not been seen for 30 years, have surpassed 100, and they are breeding there.
Bittern numbers have remained stable in the past four or five years, despite a continuing decline throughout the rest of New Zealand.
Over a hot cuppa back at the cars, the visitors said the tour had been a revelation and they were highly impressed with their tour guides’ continuing passion and enthusiasm for the project.
Rural Women NZ Martinborough invite you to join them on a guided walk through
the Wairio Wetlands on the eastern shore of Lake Wairarapa.
4.2 km one-way, round trip 7 km. Return transport provided if required.
Witness the 15 year restoration programme led by Ducks Unlimited NZ.
Good walking track, sensible footwear required but unfortunately not suitable for wheelchairs.
No toilet facilities available. No dogs allowed. Will go ahead rain or shine.
Directions: From Kahutara Road turn on to Parera Road and continue for approximately 2.6 km.
The gathering point will be clearly indicated.
Cost is $5.00 per person, with all funds to support Associated Country Women of the World,
to assist with community projects in developing countries.
Wairarapa Moana, which includes the Wairio wetland, has been recognised as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Wetland Convention.
Wairio has been Ducks Unlimited’s most significant, and its most rewarding, project over the past 15 years.
Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage, in announcing Ramsar’s decision at a ceremony at Lake Onoke on August 21, congratulated all the partners involved, including Ducks Unlimited.
Nationally Recognised restoration efforts
Once a paradise for waterfowl and aquatic species, the wetlands were greatly affected by drainage schemes in the twentieth century. Today they are a living example of what is possible through wetland restoration efforts.
Go to the Wairarapa Moana Wetlands website and read the whole story
A planting day for Victoria University students and Ducks Unlimited members at Wairio came with a few more mod cons than usual, thanks to DU President Ross Cottle.
He arrived in his motorhome with Big Red, the side-by-side in tow, which meant hot cups of tea and sausages for lunch and the easy delivery via SxS of the plants to the planting site.
There was a good turnout as students from Victoria University’s School of Biological Sciences led by Stephen Hartley, director, Greater Wellington Regional Council and DOC representatives, DU members and others all chipped to help with the day’s work.
About 300 specimen trees – kahikatea, tōtara, swamp maire and cabbage trees – were bought with a $2000 grant from the Department of Conservation.
Many hands make light work, and by the end of the day, the trees were in place as in-fill in Stage 3 of the wetland, the university’s “classroom in a wetland”, among the nursery trees planted five years ago.
This year’s Ducks Unlimited New Zealand’s 45th conference was held at the Collegiate Motor Inn in Whanganui, with just over 50 attendees. The weather was kind and, after a bitterly cold, wet and windy Friday, turned on the sunshine in time for the field trip on Saturday, 3 August.
President Ross Cottle opened proceedings at the AGM by saying it had been a reasonably quiet year, with only three members’ wetlands being developed, however work at Wairio Wetland was going well and good progress had been made.
He paid tribute to long-time DU supporter and Wairarapa Chapter Secretary/Treasurer Joyce Brooks who passed away shortly after the previous AGM.
Treasurer John Bishop, after his traditional warm-up joke, presented his report. He confirmed and reviewed the requirements of being a charitable trust, which include providing a mission statement, entity structure and a yearly report of income, expenditure, activities and volunteer support.
The information for the Charities Register notes DU is reliant on volunteers, with about 8000 volunteer hours a year spent on wetlands assessment and building, swan collection, and advice, education, field days, bittern project, supplying magazine content, Wairio planting and education, supporting schools, fundraising, auctions and dinners.
After running through the financials, which show a slight deficit for the year, John concluded:
“We are remain solvent, through support from membership subscriptions, auctions, grants from the Wetland Care Trust, and donations from Treadwells, Pharazyn Trust, Muter Trust, South Wairarapa Rotary and one-off grants.”
Election of Officers
The DU Board remained unchanged, with the two directors whose two-year terms were up, Jim Law and John Dermer, being re-elected unanimously.
Waterfowl and Wetland Trust
David Smith reported that the trust was in good shape thanks to the sharemarket, and despite paying out $40,000 to DU, was in a similar financial position as it was at the end of 2017.
He said the trust was doing exactly what it was set up to do: provide money to enable DU to carry on its work.
Will Abel said that in line with the previous couple of years, there had been few applications for new projects, with most of the wetland creation activities centred on the Wairio Wetland.
A large wetland in Pahiatua that DU committed $5000 to three years ago had been completed, and in Masterton, DU had helped created another large wetland, to which it contributed $4000.
Will Abel said it had been a disastrous year for the royal swan, with no cygnets available and even the wildlife centre at Peacock Springs, Canterbury, the usual source of swans, was looking for some new breeding stock.
“We have no idea why really, but anecdotally I suspect it is because it coincides with the 50th anniversary of the moon landing,” he said, tongue in cheek.
“If it improves next year, my supposition will be proved correct, and I will present a paper at the next conference on it.”
He said it was fortunate that there had not been many requests for swans.
Peter Russell reported that the breeding programme had had a good season, with 65 whio reared from captive pairs and 15 reared from wild clutches. A total of 72 were released.
In the North Island, 30 were released. Three older birds from last season were released on the Whakapapanui in December, and 12 birds, six males and six females, were released at Blue Duck Station in January.
The third release, on the Manganui a-te-Ao, was in early March, with eight males released at the Ruatiti Domain and four females released down the river where there was a surplus of males. Three male birds were released on Mangawhero stream on 20 March.
Peter said it was always a great thrill to take part in the releases out on the river. He has been doing them since 1997 and it has changed so much. In 2000 they released seven, compared with 72 in the past year.
In the South Island, 20 birds were released on the West Coast in January in the Wainihinihi, Arahura, Styx and Kawhake rivers; 12 birds were released on the Taipo River in March; in Tasman 10 birds were released.
Paul Mason reported that DU currently had 280 members, with 57 of those unpaid as at the AGM.
He said a second subs reminder would be sent out, following email and postal reminders subsequent to the initial subs mailout.
He noted that in the past three years, payment preferences were moving from cheque to internet banking. Credit card payments remained about the same and PayPal transactions were increasing.
More members were responding to the suggestion that DU communicated with them more by email, he said.
Paul said new articles were added as events occur, with the most recent being the planting day at Wairio Wetland. Flight magazines, from No 155 to the current issue, have been loaded on to the site. Issue 29 has also been scanned and added as a PDF file.
Articles from more recent Flight magazines are being transcribed and loaded as searchable items – so far back to issue 159. Old issues are being scanned and loaded as PDFs.
He noted a drop-off in website visitors in the past three months and in response had upgraded the site-mapping software and re-registered the site with search engines.
The main files being downloaded were Flight magazines and people were also accessing the educational resources files (from Quack Club), he said.
Jim Law reported that the wetland was in good heart, benefiting from continued restoration work, albeit at a more modest cost to DU ($4455 versus $9500 in the prior year). Work focused on more bund wall improvements ($1700), tree planting ($2000) and noxious plant control ($755).
At last, significant progress was made by the Greater Wellington Regional Council to reticulate water from Matthews Lagoon and Boggy Pond to Wairio. Earthworks have been completed but after a “weather event”, remedial work is required. This will be done this summer.
“We had provisionally budgeted to fund a portion of this work but GWRC assumed full responsibility,” he said.
Total expenditure by the Wairio Restoration Committee, not counting volunteer time, since inception 14 years ago, now stands at $220,000.
The Victoria University of Wellington School for Biodiversity and Restoration Ecology remain focused on their research at Stage 3.
The Restoration Committee is still holding funds (lodged with DU) from fundraising efforts totalling $10,807. A further $15,000 grant was recently received by local donors. These funds are also being held by DU on behalf of the project committee.
As mentioned last year, Wairarapa Moana, which includes the Wairio Wetland (administered by DOC on behalf of the Crown), has been included in a Treaty of Waitangi settlement with Wairarapa iwi. “Whilst the settlement has been delayed, the local iwi has assured us that they want us to continue our good work restoring the Wairio Wetland.
“We remain of the view, though perhaps slightly biased, that DU members should be proud of this project,” Jim said.
Jim Law reported on DU’s new initiative offering scholarships to students doing research in a relevant area. A trial offering a total of $25,000 over three years in grants of $5000 per student so far had had little response to date.
Four universities had been approached and it was likely the first recipient of one of the $5000 grants would come from Victoria University working on the Wairio site.
“We had a great day – about 1600 plants in the ground!” was the enthusiastic report from Jim Law after a successful planting day at Wairio Wetland in southern Wairarapa.
Mainly flaxes and sedges (about 1200) were planted around the southern and south eastern sides of the new dam wall at Stage 4 and 400 Totora and cabbage trees planted went in at Stage 2.
A good turn-out included Martinborough School students and staff, Taratahi trainees, Rangitane members, Rotary members, Greater Wellington Regional Council (who provided the sausage sizzle), some Rabobank staff, DOC staff and a few locals plus some co-opted farm workers - about 60 folks in all.
More clover seed was sown on the dam wall at Stage 4 by Ross Cottle and Jim Campbell.
A good year so far at the Wairio Wetland – in total just over 4000 shrubs, flaxes and trees in the ground and a great new dam wall trapping about 30 hectares of water in Stage 4. There is more to come with plans advancing for the reticulation of water from Mathews Lagoon and Boggy Pond into the Wairio Wetland.
In late November Steve Playle did a trap run at Boggy Pond and Wairio. The count was 1 ferret, 1 rat and 10 hedgehogs.
“The ferret was a big bugger and was caught along the stop bank between Mathews and Boggy. This took the total predator count to 23 ferrets, 1 stoat, 2 weasels, 4 cats, 5 rats and 14 hedgehogs.” said Steve.
Rampant growth of grass and weeds along with warm weather meant extra time cleaning around trap sites. Steve also put out another seven DoC250 traps on the Wairio Restoration Block along with two more timms traps along a pine belt where cats have been seen.
Stock tends to interfere with the traps in the Wairio Restoration Block. “We have to live with that unfortunately,” said Steve.
Mice also play havoc with baits with most traps stripped of meat if they have not had a kill in them. Steve said he knows it’s mostly mice because the DoC traps have mouse droppings in them. He has seen mice in the timms traps too. “With only one ferret for this check it could mean their numbers and getting down or maybe they are feasting on mice or even frogs as the place is alive with them at the moment,” said Steve.
Steve has seen and heard bitterns and another was heard at Mathews pond.
Trapping is ongoing.
Drone Tour of the Wairio wetlands
Watch the Drone Tour of the wetlands that was created by the Victoria University Research team