Measuring land management through ecological surveys
When Mike Bashford signed up for an ecological survey through Environment Southland, he wanted to reiterate what he already knew about his special patch of land.
“As a management tool, it’s been a great help so I can move forward in planning my strategy for fencing and enhancement of the property. It’s not even just a matter of enhancement it’s just a matter of doing the right thing for the environment that you’re looking after,” Mike says.
Mike farms sheep and beef on about 105 hectares in Niagara. He sold off much of his 485ha farm in the past few years, but the smaller property comes with a lot of diversity in terrain, ranging from wetlands to steep hill country. The terrain isn’t the only part of the property that’s diverse – the biology is too.
In 2021, Mike had two ecological surveys done on his property, one for the 81ha flat section of farm, which has the Waikawa River as a boundary, and another for the 24ha hill block with native forestry.
The Niagara area’s predominant land use is farming and many small areas of indigenous forest remain on public and private land. Less than 20m away from the Bashford forest is a large QEII covenant block, with similar vegetation, which was established by Mike some years prior to selling the property.
On Mike’s farm, the native remnant forests are kamahi-podocarp and a small area of manuka forest/scrub totalling 3.1ha. His ecological survey found the native canopy was in good condition and dominated by 8-10 metre kamahi (Weinmannia racemosa), with other hardwoods forming a minor part. Young native podocarps such as rimu, totara and kahikatea are present, alongside a range of native shrubs, ferns and herbs. The report highlights that historic grazing of the forest has had an effect on the diversity and structure of the understory, but Mike has fenced the blocks from stock in recent years.
The ecological survey also collected data on fauna in the area at the time, and anecdotally, from Mike and his neighbours. Birds seen or heard during the survey were fantail, grey warbler, kereru, tui, bellbird, silvereye, blackbird, chaffinch and harrier hawk. Kākāriki/red fronted parakeets and kārearea/New Zealand falcon have also been observed in nearby forest and farmland.
While there’s still diversity remaining in the forest blocks after logging, land intensification and grazing, Mike says there are ongoing threats to manage in order to protect the forest from further damage and to allow it to rejuvenate.
His property falls just shy of a Possum Control Area and feral deer are often seen in or around the forest and neighbouring properties.
While the remnant forest blocks are fenced, they aren’t deer fenced and the animals are damaging the understory by browsing, grazing, bark stripping and trampling. “Deer are very prevalent and they’re doing a lot more damage in the forest than what they were 50 years ago.”
People come out to Mike’s farm to shoot deer and he shoots them himself to try to keep the population down and they provide good food value too, he says.
Mike’s ecological survey isn’t the only survey happening on his farm – he’s made a record of every species he’s seen from birds to frogs, to diving beetles. “Your streams and your forests, as well as the microorganisms, plants and animals that are living in them are a good indication of the health of your farm and your management of your property.
“You need a line somewhere to see if you’re moving forward or backwards in your biodiversity and with those living animals if they start disappearing it’s a good indication that you’re doing things wrong.”
Having an ecological survey done reassured Mike that he was moving in the right direction in terms of his land management, he says. His second ecological survey was on a section of the farm that’s always been close to his heart. “I’ve always played in the creeks and rivers all my life. The biodiversity of those with all the different animals that live in there is pretty amazing.”
The area on the farm follows the banks of the Waikawa River in a 3.9ha strip. The Waikawa River is special because it has largely retained its natural course and the upper reaches of the catchment are relatively unmodified. Consequently, although naturally stained brown with peat, water quality is moderately good lower in the catchment.
The river and estuary provide important habitats for freshwater fish and invertebrates. The riparian strip on Mike’s property appears to support limited indigenous biodiversity. However, there is rich flora persisting on steep banks and hidden under patches of gorse and bush lawyer.
The more intact areas of indigenous vegetation have remnant kowhai and lowland ribbonwood, some of which are relatively large and old, and a range of shrubs or small trees.
For Mike, protecting and regenerating this area has become an important project.
He plants native seedlings along the river bank, with the entire length of the river on his property fenced off. “Land is like a body. Your fields are living parts of your body, there are the veins and arteries that lead into your river and if they aren’t clean – it’s like if your arteries are blocked.”
He also hopes to get more involved in the pest management along the river banks, with rats, mice, possums and stoats preying on birdlife. “There are lots of stoats living along the river and they’ve having a detrimental effect on the ground-laying birds, right through from the skylarks to the mallards and all the wee natives as well.”
If you’re interested in the makeup of an area on your land but don’t know much about it, an ecological survey is a great way to understand more and the ways in which it can be managed in the future. Go towww.es.govt.nz/environment/biosecurity-andbiodiversity/ecological-surveysnz/to request a survey or find out more.