Native bush brings bonuses to farmers

If you’ve got a special slice of nature on your property, don’t pass up an opportunity to protect and improve it because the effort will reward you in ways that may surprise.

So say Taranaki farmers Vanessa and Mat Vujcich – and they speak from experience. Their 100ha beef unit near Inglewood includes kamahi and swamp maire forest remnants which they’ve fenced off and are now aiming to make largely free of introduced predators.

They launched into the project because they appreciate and enjoy New Zealand’s unique biodiversity and were glad of an opportunity to do their bit to preserve it. But they’ve discovered other pluses, some of them unexpected.

“There are many farm management benefits to secure fencing, compared to the previous single hotwire that was in place” says Mat.

“Fencing the block off, plus the riparian fencing we’ve done, makes stock management easier – no more fear of stock disappearing into the bush or getting into trouble in a waterway. Now we can put them in a paddock and know they’ll still be there when we get back and they will not be damaging native vegetation or impacting on water quality.”

Another bonus has been encounters with rarely seen birdlife including the threatened whio and the ‘at risk’ kārearea, or NZ falcon. “We know there’s been kiwi passing through, too,” says Vanessa.

The couple say their native forest block, which adjoins a river on the property boundary, has also proved invaluable for giving their city-dwelling grandchildren experience of the NZ bush and waterways – an experience not always available to many other urban youngsters.

As working farmers, Mat and Vanessa also appreciate the advice and financial support they’ve been able to tap into. Their forest remnant is on the Taranaki Regional Council’s register of Key Native Ecosystems (KNEs), under which a tailored Biodiversity Plan has been drawn up.

This supports their fencing and predator-control programme and opened the way for a variety of assistance including providing traps and advice from experienced field officers. “It’s proved really useful to be able to access their expertise,” says Mat. “We’re all on the same page.”

Taranaki Regional Council, QEII National Trust and New Plymouth District Council helped assist with the cost of the fencing by contributing funds.

The Council’s Environment Services Manager, Steve Ellis, says the voluntary KNE programme is getting good results, with 293 sites on the register covering almost 123,400ha. In recent years the Council has boosted its funding for Biodiversity Plans, with officers now preparing 20 to 25 a year.

“So if anyone thinks they might have something special on their property, they should call us on 0800 736 222 so we can arrange an ecological assessment,” he says. “If everything falls into place, and the area can be legally protected with a QEII covenant or the like, then the way may be open for the sort of assistance Mat and Vanessa are benefiting from – not only for fencing and predator control but also pest-plant control and infill planting.”

The Vujciches see this protected and restored forest remnant as their responsibility and eventual legacy. “This natural area is important in its own right,” says Mat. “It’s all about using the land for what it’s best suited to – and that doesn’t mean chasing every last blade of grass.”

Interested in protecting a native habitat on your property?

Call the Council on 0800 736 222 and ask for an Environment Officer, or email environmentservices@trc.govt.nz.