Kia Whārite providing future for whio

Horizons Regional Council joined the Department of Conservation (DOC), Genesis Energy, iwi, community members and local schools for the release of 12 whio in the Ruatiti Domain area earlier this month.

The whio release was part of Kia Whārite, a collaborative biodiversity project between Horizons and the Department in the Whanganui/Ruapehu districts that is directly contributing to the survival of native species. The whio were supplied by Genesis Energy’s Whio Forever programme, which is a key tool in helping secure the future of whio in New Zealand.
Horizons biosecurity animals’ coordinator Eric Dodd says since 2008, Horizons, DOC, Whanganui iwi and private landowners have been working in the private lands and remote forests around Whanganui National Park to improve land, water and biodiversity health, while enhancing community and economic wellbeing.
“Kia Whārite is one of the largest projects of its kind in New Zealand in terms of scale and scope,” Mr Dodd says.
“It spans over 180,000 hectares and includes a mixture of private land and parts of the Whanganui National Park, the second largest lowland forest in the North Island. This remote area is home to a large population of Western North Island brown kiwi and plays host to a number of native bird and plant species.”
However, the introduction of possums, goats, stoats and other predators has threatened the health of the forest and put the long-term future of its inhabitants in jeopardy.
Mr Dodd says to address this threat, the Kia Whārite partners undertake an extensive possum operation over 150,000 hectares and other pest control to protect bush and wetlands.
“Horizons contributes $100,000 to the project every year, as well as pest control. This includes protection of whio by employing a fulltime trapper who services 1,070 traps on a fortnightly basis through the Retaruke, with the Manganui o te Ao being serviced by the DOC. Genesis also contribute $60,000 a year for predator control on both these river systems.
“The release last week wouldn’t have been possible without this extensive predator control. It is integral to taking the pressure off our native species, especially as we keep reintroducing birds to the area to help with population numbers,” says Mr Dodd.
DOC operations manager Tahinganui Hina says with a population of fewer than 3,000, this national whio security site is one of eight locations identified across the country as being essential for whio recovery. 
“With the support of Genesis Energy, DOC has been able to sustain a number of whio breeding sites, boost pest control efforts and enhance productivity and survival of these rare native ducks. The ultimate goal of this security site is to achieve protection to 50 breeding pairs,” says DOC senior biodiversity ranger Sara Treadgold.
“Our most recent bird count reported 28 pairs, 18 singles and 16 fledglings in the area, so the 12 released will hopefully increase this population and result on more breeding pairs.  We will undertake another count in the winter months to see how the birds are doing,” says DOC biodiversity ranger and whio lead Laurance Williamson.
Whio are adapted to live on fast-flowing rivers so finding them means you have also found clean, fast-flowing water with a good supply of insects. This makes whio important indicators of ecosystem health, as they only exist where there is high quality, clean and healthy waterways.
Horizons councillor for Ruapehu Bruce Rollinson says the success of the programme is enhanced through working collaboratively with DOC, iwi, landowners and private forestry companies who let Horizons and DOC on to private land to complete pest control work.
“We’re really pleased to be associated with these groups. They all play a key role in the programme as we couldn’t do it on our own and we’re really grateful for their ongoing support,” says Mr Rollinson.