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History of Marunui Conservation

Marunui was purchased in 1987 by renowned English ecologist, the late Teddy Goldsmith, and his New Zealand wife Katherine. Like minded conservationists were encouraged to join with them to share in the ownership and care of the land. The initial group of shareholders quickly began work on the preparation of a management plan to guide activities. The year 1990 saw the signing of a QE II National Trust Deed for an Open Space Covenant over the whole property, creating the Trust’s largest Northland covenant.

The early years were deeply affected by the activities of an adjoining landowner who was felling mature kanuka shrubland for firewood. Efforts to purchase the property were unsuccessful but hopes were raised in 1991 when the company made an application to the Forest Heritage Fund for the Crown to buy the land (236ha) for reserve. The FHF approved the application but it was not until 1994, after protracted negotiations and with a generous contribution from the company, that the land was purchased to become the Brynderwyn Hills Scenic Reserve vested in DOC. This area, when combined with Marunui, has resulted in the permanent protection of 659ha of significant indigenous forest.

By 1997, the company was celebrating its 10th anniversary with a full complement of 18 shareholders. Marunui was fortunate in having Professor John Morton and his wife Pat as shareholders and avid botanists. In 1999 they completed their comprehensive and magnificently illustrated Flora of Marunui describing the range of vegetation types and species found there.

Conservation and enhancement of Marunui’s natural values has always been a core management objective but prior to 2003 animal pest control was generally limited to possums and only in certain areas. That year the QEII Trust made a successful application to the Biodiversity Condition Fund on Marunui’s behalf. This financed the preparation of a report Ecological Management and Monitoring at Marunui Forest, Brynderwyn Hills (R Pierce, 2003). It also funded a contractor to implement possum and rat control over most of Marunui. The initial knock-down of possums was huge.

The Pierce report assessed the ecological significance and set restoration objectives and tasks to enable sustainable ecological management of the vegetation and habitats. Since then Marunui has funded animal pest control largely from its own resources supplemented by occasional grants from the Northland Regional Council’s Environment Fund and the Kaipara District Council’s Biodiversity Fund. This funding has been used to help build a comprehensive infrastructure of traps (DOC200s and DOC250s) and rat baitstations. In 2009 mustelids became a key target and feral cats have since been added to the list. Pigs are hunted regularly by an approved person. Marunui now has a network of tracks totaling 30kms which provides good access for servicing traps and baitstations.
In 2010 funding from the Biodiversity Advice Fund enabled the commissioning of a report entitled Brynderwyns-Bream Tail: Opportunities for Ecological Restoration (R Pierce, 2011). It was the first part of a 3-stage project aimed at achieving better recognition, protection and management of the Brynderwyn range. The important biodiversity values are described, threats identified and opportunities for restoration and integrated, effective management outlined. In the second stage a brochure, Brynderwyns-Bream Tail: a natural treasure (2012), summarising the report’s key points, was prepared and distributed. It encourages landowners to improve biodiversity on their land and aims to stimulate interest in the wider community to help protect and enhance the area’s natural values. The third stage was a workshop, organised in association with staff from DOC and the NZ Landcare Trust, to demonstrate pest control techniques to local landowners. This has had a positive outcome with a number commencing animal pest control and obtaining assistance through the Regional Council’s Environment Fund.

Included in the 2003 Pierce report’s ecological objectives was the recovery of threatened species, including kiwi which had been present in the Brynderwyns up to the late 1960s. Conversion of indigenous forest to exotic with attendant crushing and burning, attacks by dogs and predation by introduced mammals were the likely key factors in their extinction. Marunui’s increased level of predator control, particularly of mustelids, saw a marked improvement in birdlife and opened options for recovery.

In 2012, staff at the DOC Whangarei Kiwi Sanctuary encouraged the company to submit a translocation proposal outline to reintroduce Northland brown kiwi to the Brynderwyns at Marunui. It was subsequently assessed and approved ‘in principle’ by DOC subject to completing the necessary consultation and documentation satisfactorily. This work was undertaken in the latter part of 2012. Following approval of the Translocation Proposal, fourteen Northland brown kiwi were released at Marunui in April 2013 with a wonderful community celebration.

Further releases took place in 2014 and 2015 bringing the total to 43 birds. Since that time the birds have increased in number through nesting success and some have moved beyond Marunui’s boundaries. A number have settled in DOC’s adjacent Brynderwyn Hills Scenic Reserve to the east while others have expanded westwards into Hancock Forest Management’s (HFM) exotic pine forest interspersed with native bush. In response HFM fund predator control there and the Mangawhai Tracks Charitable Trust undertake pest control in the Reserve.

In 2014, with funding from the Biodiversity Condition Fund and assistance from DOC and HFM, a ‘Ring of Steel’ was established. This created a chain of mustelid traps on properties surrounding Marunui to provide a protective buffer. It expands the area under predator control from 423ha at Marunui to 1350ha. The initial 150 mustelid traps has been increased to 190 and has been extremely effective. Predators caught in the Ring between April 2014-March 2017 include 15 feral cats, 3 ferrets, 110 stoats, 206 weasels and 1360 rats. This helps protect those kiwi that have established territories further afield and reduces predator invasion into Marunui where intensive trapping is undertaken.

It is hoped that in the long term landowners throughout the Brynderwyns might work collectively and co-operatively, perhaps under the umbrella of a landcare group, to provide a managed habitat for a larger self-sustaining kiwi population.

Marunui enjoys the support of an enthusiastic group of volunteers largely based in and around the Mangawhai area. They are assisting with trapping and baiting while other conservation tasks, such as track maintenance and weed control, are options for those who prefer different types of work. Their help is invaluable and is making a tremendous contribution to the protection of kiwi and other indigenous fauna. We welcome anyone wishing to volunteer and help make a difference to contact us.