Family fence foils predators
In your spare time, some of you might mow the lawns, or clean out the garage, and a few of you might even get some paintbrushes out and paint the house. Over the last few years, Brian Plaisier has been building a fence.
And it's not just any old fence. The Chairman of the Tui Nature Reserve Wildlife Trust, along with his family and a keen group of volunteers, has been building a giant predator-diverting fence in the idyllic Marlborough Sounds.
"The project was originally a private challenge for our family after we bought the land in 1994," he says. "We wanted to bring some of the native wildlife back to the area, as at the time, it was pretty devastated". Few birds and a grey, possum damaged canopy were the obvious signs that the native wildlife needed the family's help.
The local community also caught wind of the work, and lent a hand, and the Trust was formed. It now has five trustees and an advisory group of 16 members, all with a wide range of skills and expertise to contribute to conservation.
In May this year, the first 100 metres of the fence were erected with the help of the latest group of volunteers - a team of Trainee DOC Rangers from Nelson.
"The fence is designed to keep out large animals such as goats, pig and deer," says Brian. "We will also continue trapping behind the fence to control predators like stoat, rat, and possums," he adds.
It is hoped that when the nearly 1km long fence is finished, predator numbers will be low enough to allow for the South Island Robin to be reintroduced. The tiny native birds have suffered from a dramatic reduction in numbers across New Zealand, and it's simply too risky to re-introduce them into areas with high predator counts.
The erection of the first part of the fence has capped off an impressive few years for the Trust. Thanks to the support of the Marlborough Council, local iwi Ngati Kuia, and the Department of Conservation, along with WWF-New Zealand's Habitat Protection Fund which is supported by The Tindall Foundation, the reserve is now a spectacular eco tourist destination, and in 2009 won the supreme award at the Marlborough Environment Awards.
"To win the award in 2009 was very inspiring for us," says Brian. "It has also helped ignite our enthusiasm for new projects," he adds.
These projects include programmes to give young people an opportunity to learn skills like trapping, monitoring, and chainsaw skills, and an environmental research and science programme for university students. Visitors can also stay at the reserve and help out on regular patrols, as well as bird watching and sightseeing activities.
"The Tui Nature Reserve is a great example of the positive impact private landowners can have on conservation in New Zealand," says Jenny Lynch, WWF's Community Conservation Coordinator. "Their family approach, along with the input of the local community, means the project will span generations and gives it a solid footing for the future."
But at its heart, the project at Tui Nature Reserve still remains very much a family affair. Brian's children are involved in the work at the reserve, and both have picked up unique skills that are invaluable to the conservation efforts at the reserve.
"Leona is a trained handler with DOC's Conservation Dogs programme, and Liam is in training," says Brian. Their dogs have special skills to monitor the presence of predators that have breached the protection in place.
The handlers and the dogs are in high demand too. In February this year Leona travelled to Macquarie Island with two of the conservation dogs, to help with predator control on the isolated island. This is an unique conservation project and also supported by WWF.
For Brian, the fence is just part of the wider work involved at the Reserve, and he remains optimistic that our native species can be protected if the right decisions are made now. "Every little victory should be celebrated. These will inspire those who are working hard to make a difference for all of us," he says.