This Case Study commenced early 2018 and will continue until 2019.
Farming & Nature Conservation on Te Uranga B2 - Upoko
Sheep and beef farms comprise just over 40% of New Zealand’s total land area and are an essential part of both our economy and culture. They are often situated in lowlands where there is little public conservation land (national parks and reserves), and are home to many rare, threatened and taonga species. Because of this there is a fantastic opportunity to work with farmers throughout Aotearoa towards a common goal: find ways to increase native biodiversity on our farms that also benefits the farm as a business.
To accomplish this goal, Farming & Nature Conservation is bringing together biological scientists, social scientists, iwi, farmers and local communities throughout the country.
We are asking: what do farmers think of biodiversity and conservation, and what are the incentives or obstacles associated with this? What are the costs and benefits of maintaining and improving native biodiversity? We are looking at how the spatial arrangement of habitat across the farm affects the function of biodiversity. Finally, we will be modelling ecological processes, land use change and management decisions with the aim of being able to predict future change in native biodiversity.
For Te Uranga B2 - Upoko - this means that we are working closely with staff and committee members. By combining contemporary science with Kaupapa Māori we can obtain a holistic view of the native biodiversity on the farm. Horizons Regional Council are very supportive of our research and we are looking forward to working with them in the future regarding how the farm fits into the wider landscape.
On the ground there is plenty of work to be done! For the first two weeks of February we had five ecologists out and about; all with different areas of expertise. The biggest task by far was mapping the native vegetation across the 1445ha of the sheep and beef farm. This took the entire two weeks and once we had started we quickly realized this farm was something special. There are many pockets of biodiversity, hidden away at the top of steep hills or at the bottom of valleys. Some of the abundant species like rautahi (Carex geminata) are providing a quick snack for the
stock while maintaining healthy population sizes. Other species, like tōtara, are not so palatable and have therefore grown extensively over the farm, providing habitat for many native birds, shade in which other native plants can grow and of course great shelter for the stock.
Large trees provide shelter for the stock from both the sun and rain
In the first week of February Anoek, a Bachelor of Science intern from the Netherlands, conducted five-minute bird counts in different habitat types around the farm with the aim of comparing how the different vegetation affects the species of birds present. Her data is still being processed but she did hear many native birds including ngirungiru/miromiro/tomtit, riroriro/grey warbler, tūī, kererū and koekoeā/long-tailed cuckoo. Koekoeā spend winter on smaller Pacific islands near the Phillipines but migrate to New Zealand to breed in summer. They are famous for laying their eggs in the nests of other birds like riorio and leaving them to raise the chicks.
The whole team was involved in setting up the first of our “Tier 1” plots. These are replicates of the nation-wide monitoring protocol the Department of Conservation uses to monitor vegetation on public conservation land. We will be setting up nine permanent plots in different habitat types around the farm and permanently marking them, so Te Uranga B2 Incorporation can compare the native vegetation and coarse woody debris that there is there now, with what is there in the future.
The plots are 20m x 20m and within this we measure and tag large trees (more than 135cm) - both standing and fallen. We also record all the understory species (less than 135cm) down to the tiniest kahikatea seedling. Taking soil samples allows us to analyse the nutrient content and see how the vegetation affects the soil, and vice versa.
Chloé Mathieu (PhD candidate) and Johanna Spaak (research assistant) from Auckland University of Technology take a good look at the seedlings growing under large tōtara trees in our first Tier 1 plot.
We managed to get a lot done in our two weeks on Upoko, but there are many more boxes to tick! We will hopefully be back on the farm sometime around April to continue finding out about this unique piece of land.
Stacey Bryan, Research Assistant | Farming & Nature Conservation, University of Canterbury