This article looks at the Stewart Island Rakiura Community and
Environment Trust (SIRCET) an environment restoration and protection
trust whose activities in the Halfmoon Bay precinct of Stewart Island
are gaining national attention. Our aims and activities here have many
parallels with SIRCET and a closer examination of their history and
activities is well warranted.
SIRCET is a Charitable Community Trust composed entirely of people who
live on, or have a strong interest in Stewart Island. The Trust’s
principal conservation work, the Halfmoon Bay Habitat Restoration
Project (HMB HRP) is focused firmly on the local community taking
control of their own destiny and protecting the land that they live on.
This project aims to control possums, wild cats and rats (the full suite
of introduced predators on Stewart Island), on private land around
Halfmoon Bay. A recent survey of visitors to Stewart Island found that
30% noted the birdlife to be the highlight of their visit. The Trust
wishes to maintain this drawcard as a basis for a growing tourism
industry, and in doing so work towards a sustainable future for the
Stewart Island community.
The forest species in the Halfmoon Bay area are representative of the
main forest cover found on Stewart Island, which is lowland temperate
rain forest (kamahi, rimu, rata mix). Some unique flora, eg. mistletoe
and tree fuschia are also present.
The area is distinct in the numbers and diversity of bird life. These
bird species include: tui (seasonal flocks of 100+), bellbirds
(korimako), kaka (flocks of 12+), kereru/ NZ pigeon (occasional flocks
of 15-20), kiwi, little blue penguins (koraro), a mainland breeding
colony of sooty shearwater (titi), grey warbler (riroriro), fantail (piwakawaka),
brown creeper (pipipi) and red-crowned kakariki. The only known Stewart
Island population of long-tailed bats (pekapeka) occurs in the Halfmoon
Bay area. Many of these individual species, let alone the combination,
are distinctive at a national level.
Many species have disappeared from the area over time eg yellow-head (mohua),
saddleback (tieke), Stewart Island robin (toutouwai), with some
disappearing off the main island within the last ten years eg. rifleman
(titipounamu) and Stewart Island weka because of predation by introduced
This project started in 2003, as a purely volunteer pest-control
project. The foundational trust members and initial volunteers were able
to take on 20 hectares at the very tip of the peninsula which forms the
southern side of Halfmoon Bay (the township of Stewart Island/ Rakiura),
called Ackers Point. This is home to a seasonal population of sooty
shearwater (titi), and a breeding population of Little Blue penguins.
It’s a popular place for tourists and Islanders to walk the well-formed
Over time the HMB HRP project has expanded to cover some 200ha with
possum, rat and cat traps at prescribed densities. Outside funding has
allowed for a project manager and some assistants to co-ordinate
volunteers and support the project effort.
The project operates almost entirely on private land, with “our
community taking action” being the main focus. This ‘community’ is made
up of both residents and visiting crib-owners. If landowners choose to
offer their land for inclusion, it is at no cost to them, and gives them
greater ownership of the project. There are some small DOC or
council-owned reserves and the Trust has permission to include them
Safety of domestic pets, children and the workers themselves, as well as
maintaining people’s privacy, has been a strong focus, to ensure the
restoration work continues to be supported and to grow.
Community sensitive techniques
The pest-control side of the project operates entirely through trapping.
It was set-up in that way so that any member of the community or anyone
with an interest in Stewart Island can be involved (No special
poison-handling licenses are needed, and kill-traps reduce the
time-investment versus gain.) To protect the Island’s domestic pet
population only live-capture cage traps are used with some selective
shooting for wild cats. The need for support of the whole community,
including pet owners, is considered paramount! The Trust’s stance on
domestic pets is to promote responsible pet ownership: keeping dogs on
leashes, following council regulations and keeping cats inside &
well-fed). They provide free cat collars (with a bell!) to help identify
pets if caught.
Since the project’s inception, 210 hectares have been protected through
a grid network of seven hundred odd traps. There are approximately 5
possum and 5 rat traps per hectare, with a more intensive area of
trapping around the border and the odd less intensive area (eg. the golf
course). Due to the nature of wild cats and the method of control, cat
traps have not been placed in permanent locations. Instead mobile cage
traps are used to target areas in which wild cats are either known to be
(through identifying cat sign using a trained cat dog) or in which
special wild life exists (eg Little Blue Penguin colony).
Other landowners who are not within the current restoration area are
also setting up their own pest-control projects. The Trust makes
themselves, and their advisors available to provide advice and support
to these projects wherever requested. So the total number of community
traps working together towards a common goal is significantly greater
than the Trust’s efforts alone.
How many volunteers?
People help with the project in many ways. They have about 25 regular,
trapping volunteers (who have adopted a trap line each to check weekly),
as well as those who help with finances, workshops and workdays,
organizing important events and so on.
Volunteering isn’t limited to the community, there are many people
living around New Zealand who offer support, such as advice and critique
by request, legal support and production of a website. The Trust is keen
to involve anyone who has an interest in Stewart Island.
Every year the contribution to the project increases, and so far, so
have the results. Tui and bellbird numbers have shown a 71% increase
over the last two years in the annual bird-call count monitoring within
the restoration area. (Initial results from the 2007 monitoring show
another very significant increase over the last year) In comparison, a
nearby, unprotected area has shown no change in numbers over the same
period of monitoring. Tomtits have also more than trebled in that time
and fantail numbers, which appear to have suffered a seasonal set-back
in 2004/05 in both areas, have begun to swell again within the protected
The predator control has allowed the re-introduction and successful
breeding of Stewart Is. Weka (2005) and the introduction of the Stewart
Island Robin (2006).
Two local businesses, (Stewart Island Flights and Aurora Charters) and
the Southland Department of Conservation have sponsored these transfers,
which could not have been achieved without the restoration work being
carried out. Local members are excited to see the weka forming pair
bonds and breeding around the local walks, in their backyards and
In 2005 they were voted to receive an Environment Award (Community
Groups’ section) by Environment Southland, a fantastic filip to all
their supporters, sponsors and volunteers.
Clearly the SIRCET has substantial funding support from Biodiversity and
Advice Fund, World Wildlife Fund, Community Trust of Southland but also
excellent local business sponsorship and Tertiary support in species
monitoring. Their aim is toward sustainable revenue streams and sound
management to ensure the continuity and growth of the project.
Thanks to a rotational, intensive trapping strategy they have ensured
that pest numbers can be kept low with minimal effort, making the best
use of volunteers’ time, and allowing for expansion of the area of
protection or focus on areas of special need.
The funding has allowed SIRCET to employ two professional part-timers —
an operations officer and an administrations officer. Among a raft of
responsibilities, they co-ordinate the work ensuring economy of effort
and maintain information feedback to keep all well informed as well as
recruiting new sponsors, volunteers and advocates. Their task is also to
ensure the project has funding for the years to come, and that sponsors
are given value-for-money in their level of involvement and exposure.
What makes this project work is its “closeness to home” for this
community. People living here, and those who choose to visit, value
having an abundance of native wildlife around their homes and gardens.
Many earn their living from tourism, others simply feel that the sound
of the kaka calling at dusk means ‘home’.
Like many remote communities, interested people here work together well,
and that is the key to this project. No one person could achieve
long-term pest control around the Bay; this project relies on a small
amount of effort from each person, coordinated into a big vision. Kari
Beavan, Operations Officer for SIRCET sums up the attitude of the local
conservationist, “With an example like the world-renowned, pest-free
Ulva Island on our doorstep, and a head start simply because of the
nature of Halfmoon Bay, it’s only natural to want to take that extra
step to protect this area.”