Last Friday 1 July was another historic day for Auckland conservation. In beautiful settled weather conditions the first of three helicopter aerial poison bait applications took place on Shakespear Regional Park. The meticulously organized operation went so smoothly that the application was completed by mid afternoon enabling the Auckland Council general manager of regional parks Mace Ward to announce the good news almost immediately after
By now two days on, the thousands of rats and mice that infest the regenerating coastal forest at Shakespear regional park, having consumed the brodifacoum bait (which does not cause any immediate noticeable ill effects to the target animals) will slowly begin to die. As each predator goes a whole coastal forest ecosystem which has been largely suppressed and disrupted for around 150 years by the heavy influence of alien rodents (ship rats, Norway rats and mice) and other predators (such as stoats and feral cats) will slowly come to life. This process will take many years but the subtle signs of a habitat on the mend will become apparent almost immediately. Wild food such as fruits and seeds of native plants and grasses normally consumed by rats and mice will now become available to native wildlife. Invertebrates on the forest floor such as darkling beetles, native cockroaches previously consumed by the rodents will quickly increase in numbers. This spring native birds, lizards and invertebrates still existing on Shakespear will now be able to breed safely and successfully. What is more the constant stream of vagrant rare native birds from Tiritiri Matangi, especially kakariki and bellbirds, which are unable to survive for long on the northern mainland in the presence of high numbers of rats, are likely to ‘stick’ this time and breed – starting important new populations at Shakespear. These will be the first significant examples of these birds breeding on the mainland so close to Auckland since the 1860s. With the ship rats gone, other smaller native birds from Tiri (which may have already attempted to colonise the Whangaparaoa peninusula in the past) such as stitchbirds and whiteheads will sooner or later almost certainly also become apparent.
Taking a very precautionary approach and to allay any public concerns the Auckland Council is closing a large part of the park from 1 July to approximately mid December 2011.
The area of regional parkland to be closed is all land east of the pest proof fence. Okoromai Bay, Army Bay and the wetlands will remain open to the public during this period except on operational flying days. Information and warning notices will be posted at entry points: http://www.arc.govt.nz/parks/our-parks/parks-in-the-region/shakespear/
The whole operation is a credit to all those involved. The former ARC, now Auckland Council, The NZ Defence Forces for generously including their lands – a decision which made the whole project viable; and of course the dedicated hard-working citizen volunteers – members of the public organised as the Shakespear Open Sanctuary Society Inc (Sossi). So ably led by Allan Parker. Sossi raised nearly $500,000 towards the cost of building the predator-proof fence: http://www.sossi.org.nz/
Formal planning for the Shakespear open sanctuary was first began by the Auckland Regional Council in 2004 (but I first began promoting this idea 10 years before that in my role as the then chairman of the ARC regional parks committee – see speech notes below).
In recent years the project was taken up and firmly pushed along by ARC politicians, especially by the chair of the regional parks and heritage committee Cr Sandra Coney and her deputy chair and member for Rodney Cr Christine Rose.
The project had the committed support of Parks and Heritage staff, Mace Ward, Louise Mason, Janis McCardle, Tim Lovegrove, Shona Wardlaw, Matt Baber and Sanctuary manager Matt Maitland – amongst others. Predator-proof fence construction began in March 2010 with a formal ceremony – (see below) and was completed early this year.
The open sanctuary will encompass more than 500 hectares of land, including Shakespear Regional Parkland and the adjoining wastewater treatment plant and New Zealand Defence Force land.
The predator-proof fence and the Shakespear open sanctuary became one the 2009-10 ARC ‘Legacy Projects’ driven ahead at a frenetic pace by ARC members and staff determined to leave something of lasting good behind in the final days before the ARC marched off the stage of history. Other legacy projects were: the establishment of the Hillary Trail; the opening of Queens Wharf to the public; purchase of Te Muri Regional Park; the gazeting of a Tawharanui Marine Reserve; bellbird transfers to Motuihe and Waiheke Islands; completion of the regional parks management plan; the publication of a history of the regional parks Dreamers of the Day; the opening of the Onehunga Branch Line the funding of the CBD Loop Business Case; pushing for a joint aganecy study on rail to the airport; completion of plans for the Wynard Waterfront and Headland Park; and the creation of a waterfront heritage tramway – amongst others. The beneficial impact of this inspired burst of regional government activism will be felt in Auckland for years ahead.
In March 2010 in an event studiously avoided by the NZ Herald
the former ARC held a ceremony to mark the commencement of work on the predator proof fence as the first stage in building a pest-free wildlife sanctuary on Shakespear Regional Park. Here is an extract from my speech as the then chairman of the ARC:
” Welcome to Shakespear Regional Park on thus historic day for Shakespear and Auckland’s regional parks network.
The Regional Parks network was founded by the Auckland Regional Authority in 1963 when wise regional leaders of the time perceived that Auckland which was beginning to grow very rapidly and being 400km from the nearest national park had to make provision for the outdoors recreation needs of its people and for the protection of the region’s outstanding landscapes – especially its coastal landscapes. They realised that if nothing was done, all of Auckland’s superb coastal environment would soon be covered by housing subdivisons.
And since those early beginnings the regional parks network has gone from strength to strength expanding to cover some 40,000 hectares of open space in 26 [27 with later purchase of Te Muri] regional parks. Many of those parks are coastal parks and the regional parks network now extends along some 170 km of coast line – protecting in public ownership perpetuity high value coastal landscapes. To demonstrate the wisdom and foresight of those regional leaders – indeed it can be said that virtually the only remaining undeveloped coastal land areas between here and the Tawharanui peninsula are in the ARC regional parks.
The Auckland Regional Council owns and manages these parks on behalf of you the ultimate owners – the people of the Auckland region. And the people of the region can be assured that the ARC is working very hard to ensure that the much loved regional parks network is kept together as we transit into the Super City.
As for Shakespear – it was one of the earliest regional parks, purchased by the Auckland Regional Authority in 1967 – soon after Long Bay and Wenderholm Regional parks – and with great foresight. The land was situated close to a very rapidly expanding suburban area, and Shakespear regional park is now the largest area of public land on the Whangaparaoa peninsula – highly valued by local residents and visitors alike, attracting over 600,000 visitors each year.
A large number of people here today are members of the Shakespear Open Sanctuary Society Incorporated, otherwise known as SOSSI, and are active supporters of our work on the park. On behalf of the Auckland Regional Council I would like to thank you Alan Parker and members for your dedicated volunteering efforts – especially over recent years.
This event can be considered the pay-off day for you folk – for today we mark the decisive step in which this regional park begins its transformation from a beautiful country-side park into something even better – an Open Sanctuary.
Our other major land-owning partner in this project of course is the New Zealand Defence Force – perhaps an unusual partner in a conservation project but one which has joined this cause with a great deal of enthusiasm. I acknowledge and thank Captain Keating, and the servicemen and women here today and thank you for working with us on the Shakespear Open Sanctuary.
Ladies and Gentlemen without the critical cooperation of the NZ Defence Force there could be no Open Sanctuary along the lines that we are planning.
Also among us today we also have some of the businesses and groups who have contributed funds to the Fencepost Appeal. Your contribution joins that of the Auckland Regional Council, and the region’s ratepayers, and is greatly appreciated.
I would also like to acknowledge the Department of Conservation, Massey and Auckland Universities and ARC parks and heritage staff for their technical contribution to this project. Research into the protection of native fauna and flora is vital to establishing the objectives of an open sanctuary and we are grateful for their input. Thank you.
Shakespear Regional Park’s and geographic position at the end of this 12km peninsula and its close relationship to Tiritiri Matangi Island and the Tiritiri Open Sanctuary has long been thought of as offering great possibilities for conservation.
I recently came across a report I wrote for the Regional Parks Committee back in 1995, nearly 15 years ago when I was chairman of Parks. It was essentially a strategy paper called Regional Parks for the 21st Century. Sparing the details essentially I was proposing a strategic approach for the Regional Parks network going forward based on two principals – expansion and intensification.
By expansion I meant expansion of the network by energetically acquiring more parkland – and I’m pleased to say the ARC, especially in the last 6 years with Cr Sandra Coney at the helm of regional parks, has done that.
In terms of ‘intensification” I was thinking very much of elevated conservation management and integrated pest control – especially on peninsula regional parks. At that time the ARC was just starting to become involved in this field but since that time, natural heritage conservation work has become an important focus of our work. Indeed the ARC with its dedicated heritage, biosecurity and ranger staff has become a national leader in this field.
We in the ARC are determined that this work and the expertise of our people will to be carried forward into the Super City.
But let me will read you what I wrote, with much enthusiasm and a certain amount of impatience back in 1995:
I believe we need to start work later this year on formulating plans to enable regional parks to capitalise on the national celebrations at the beginning of the 21st century.
I propose we go for a concept centred around the idea of ‘LAND ISLAND 2000’. This would be a four year project which would see predator-proof fencing at appropriate points across Tawharanui, Mahurangi East, Wenderholm, Shakespear and Umupuia Peninsulas. Revegetation efforts on these parks must be stepped up starting this year. The erection of predator-proof fencing must be followed by total pest eradication. I believe the flagship for this project should be
Shakespear Regional park and a radical approach must be made in stepping up revegetation using an army of volunteers. The whole visual catchment around Te Haruhi Bay must be revegetated and all major bush areas linked by corridor. The project would culminate with the release of bellbirds, saddlebacks, whiteheads, kiwi and kakariki parakeets. Land Island 2000 could also apply to the upper Huia catchment of the Waitakeres. etc etc
Unfortunately due to the swings and roundabouts of politics I lost my position later that year.
But good things take time and they tend not to come easily. So in a time-scale, rather longer than I hoped back in 1995 we have nevertheless today, 15 years later arrived at last at the historic moment.
Very soon Cr Sandra Coney will lead us in breaking the ground marking both the beginning and the point of no return for the building of the predator proof fence:
I look forward to the day and it will not be far away when native bird species like bellbirds, hihi, parakeets, kaka and kereru and kiwi (many of which will arrive of their own accord) can breed safely and are abundant here –
Not only will thousands of people come to experience the open sanctuary – but be in no doubt that these birds will be coming to visit you – the local residents of Whangaparaoa, the Hibiscus coast and beyond.”