Great Barrier Island Environmental News
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Kaitiaki Stand Up: the growth of community conservation
and support for a pest-free Aotea
by Kate Waterhouse

On the eve of the return to mana whenua of key ecological and historic sites on Aotea/Great Barrier through their long awaited Treaty settlement, research amongst Aotea’s landowners shows wide support for pest management and a pest-free island.

The quantitative research amongst 277 ratepayers and landowners, should be an important input to decision-making for the Department of Conservation and Auckland Council in the months ahead.

In late 2015 and early 2016, Auckland University masters student Joanne Aley, carried out quantitative research amongst landowners of Great Barrier Island. Aley’s research was part of a wider project to explore attitudes to pest management on inhabited islands of the Hauraki Gulf.

The findings were presented at the joint conference of the Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia (SERA) and the New Zealand Ecological Society (NZES) in Hamilton on 20 November 2016. 

Aley’s research is reported in her masters’ thesis: Environmental and pest management attitudes of Hauraki Gulf Island Communities1. The thesis comprises quantitative and secondary data and analysis relating to pest management attitudes amongst Aotea/Great Barrier ratepayers and landowners. The findings relating to Great Barrier were shared in extracted form with the Aotea Conservation Park Advisory Board in December.

Hauraki Gulf island landowners’ attitudes to pest management

Focusing on four inhabited islands within the Hauraki Gulf; Rakino, Kawau, Great Barrier and Waiheke, and  a  stratified  sample  from  the  Auckland  mainland,  as  a  form  of  control  group,  the  study had three main objectives:

· To survey each community’s attitudes towards the environment and pest management.

· To develop and utilise a framework of social characteristics associated with pest eradication on inhabited islands.

· To develop and psychometrically test an attitudes assessment scale designed to measure broad contexts of attitudes towards pest management.

Figure 1 gives an overview of the responses from landowners on all island’s surveyed.

Figure 1: Landowner support for pest management on four inhabited islands in the Hauraki Gulf, and a control sample from the mainland. Results for Aotea/Great Barrier are characterised by the relatively high percentage of those surveyed who were ‘unsure’ about pest management1.

Two thirds of all Hauraki Gulf island communities surveyed had pro (yes) attitudes towards both the environment and pest management. Most positive are Rakino landowners (Rakino is already rat-free). All are more positive than Auckland landowners. Larger islands, including Aotea/Great Barrier and Waiheke, had a higher proportion of respondents who were ‘unsure’ or ‘depends’ in their attitude towards pest management.

Support for a pest-free Aotea/Great Barrier Island - but the process has to change

Of the approximately 1,000 landowners on Aotea/Great Barrier Island, Aley received responses from 277 – a credible 28% response rate for this type of mail survey. The median age of respondents was 60 years and 59% were male. Over half of dwellings were unoccupied (i.e. non-resident ratepayers).

Key findings of Aley’s study include:

· Strong landowner support for a pest-free Aotea/Great Barrier Island (67% ‘yes’).

· Negligible rejection (2%) of a pest-free Aotea/Great Barrier Island – important as landowners are a significant segment of the island’s community and economy.

· Higher uncertainty about a pest-free Aotea/Great Barrier Island amongst a minority of landowners (31% unsure/depends) than found on other islands.

Aley identifies this relatively high level of uncertainty as a key issue for Aotea/Great Barrier Island. While the cause is not completely clear, Aley highlights the importance of understanding what is driving these attitudes, including misinformation about pest management prevalent in the community.

The ongoing project to develop an ecology vision for Aotea/Great Barrier (funded by the Great Barrier Local Board) has also indicated wide support for restoration, pest control/suppression, and in particular cat control on the island.

Worth noting is that the methods used in this project are qualitative (as opposed to Aley’s quantitative methods) and as such do not measure the extent to which the opinions of contributors are held across the wider community.

Why experience matters

Aley states that a clear positive correlation between experience of, or participation in, pest control (particularly rats) and positive pest management attitudes, including support for a pest free island.

With progression to inhabited islands comes the need for better social engagement approaches than has occurred to date1.

This correlation is evident in the research amongst Aotea/Great Barrier Island landowners, but was found to be highest on Rakino where people are already experiencing the positive impacts of an absence of rats on birdlife and in their homes.

Rakino Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Residents on this 1.5 km2 rat-free island
had the highest levels of support for pest eradication.

On Aotea/Great Barrier Island, an unknown but significant number of landowners carry out pest control on their own properties, adjacent to land managed by the Department of Conservation.

These areas are known to include ecologically significant habitats. An island-wide inventory of this activity would add to current levels of understanding about the total level of effort being expended to suppress rats on the island, as well as the extent of participation and experience of the community in such activities. 

Glenfern Sanctuary — part of the Kotuku Peninsula Sanctuary is  protected by a predator-proof fence. Active pest control on the Peninsula is managed by a trust that also includes private landowners and the Department of Conservation. 

 What next?

Aley presents analysis of the ‘pathways through’ which will be of use to the Department of Conservation and others in moving forward on the issue of pest management on Aotea/Great Barrier.

Picking up on both Aley’s research and recent developments in the New Zealand pest-free arena, the Great Barrier Island Environmental Trust presented recommendations to the   Aotea Conservation Park Advisory Committee on 5 December 2016. In summary, the Trust called on the Committee to:

· Work in partnership with Ngati Rehua Ngati Wai ki Aotea, the Great Barrier Local Board and relevant ecology experts to agree a common view of priority locations to progress ecological protection and restoration projects on Aotea (avoid overlap, duplication of effort and competition for funding).

· Ensure that the planned rat eradication on Rakitu, kokako reintroduction to Te Paparahi and pest control on Hirakimata are carried out with maximum community involvement to raise the level of community participation and contribute to increased positive perceptions of pest management.

· Ask the Department of Conservation to actively identify and more closely support landowners who are, or would like to, control pests on their own land.

· Ask the Department of Conservation to work with the Local Board, Auckland Council Environmental Services, local schools and relevant experts to provide simple, accurate and appropriate information on how pests harm local wildlife and places, the implications of a pest-free island and the options for pest control – to help address the uncertainty expressed by one in four Aotea/Great Barrier landowners.

1Aley, J., 2016. Environmental and pest management attitudes of Hauraki Gulf Island Communities. Thesis for the MSc Biological Science (Biosecurity and Conservation) University of Auckland 2016.

Eight steps to a pest-free Aotea

· Foster collaboration between iwi, central and local government, NGOs and landowners.

· Eliminate competition for funding and fragmentation of effort.

· Create a shared set of ecological priorities for the island.

· Create a joined up ‘Southern Sanctuary’ close to main population centres so more residents, ratepayers and
    visitors can get involved.

· Identify cost-effective sources of pest management equipment and supplies.

· Improve access to relevant New Zealand (and international) experts.

· Set up forums for increased networking and information sharing between landowners.

· Support growth in on-island plant sources for revegetation projects.