About Kia Wharite

Kia Wharite – A collaborative biodiversity project

Protecting the regions biodiversity has seen the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Horizons Regional Council working together across a large section of public and private land. The project involves innovative partnerships with tangata whenua, landowners and other agencies across 180,000 hectares of the Whanganui River catchment.
By maintaining the condition of large areas of forest and protecting riparian margins there are significant benefits to the health of the Whanganui River.  If forests were allowed to deteriorate then water quality in the Whanganui would further decline.

DOC regards the Kia Wharite project as a successful model of the agencies working in partnership - producing improved outcomes in the most efficient way for taxpayers and ratepayers.

Demonstration of the projects success using the original aims gives some interesting insights into the work. In terms of biodiversity management, 5 years is a relatively short period of time but there have been some key positive results which can be interpreted strongly in favour of the work.

Consistently lower numbers than in areas untreated – most impressive result noted in the Matemateaonga, where 13 months following the 2nd 1080 drop, zero stoats have been recorded in tracking tunnels. This is a fantastic result.

Bird call rates
Even though we would not expect to note a difference within the (relatively short) five year period, there has been a significant improvement recorded during monitoring in the number of kiwi bird calls heard. Both male and female call rates improved significantly, with the average being 30% greater. The increase in the female call rate was almost 70%.

Whio breeding pairs reached their target number of 50 breeding pairs within the first year of operation. Some setbacks have occurred in whio numbers - such as a severe slip on the river but whio numbers again appear to be on the increase.

Forest health vegetation monitoring
Monitoring of possum-preferred forest trees in the Matemateaonga Stage 5&6 (Kia Wharite) treatment block in Whanganui National Park have been made from 2000 to 2012. This area has received possum control via aerial application of 1080 in 2006 and again in 2011. Similar measurements have been made in the Matemateaonga Stage 2&3 blocks, last treated in 2004. Results from 2012 are used to contrast these two management regimes.

Data was collected using the aerial foliar browse index, a visual assessment of the canopy health of individual trees of indicator species, made by observers hovering in a helicopter over 50 random points in the two blocks. Monitoring found significant improvement in foliage cover over time for all species at both sites. This improvement was greatest in the earlier years. In 2012, foliage cover was greater in Stage 5&6 than in the untreated Stage 2&3 for five of the six indicator species. Measures of damage to the canopy - browse and dieback, have shown a substantial reduction since monitoring began in 2000. Again, most improvement took place early on. There was some evidence of improvement at Stage 2&3 between 2003 and 2006, but this has not been sustained. In 2012, less possum browse and dieback was recorded at the Stage 5&6 block than in the Stage 2&3 block. We would expect to see the results of shifting to a 3 yearly application cycle come through the 2013 monitoring analysis.

Iwi support for 1080
There has traditionally been strong opposition from iwi regarding the use of 1080. We have noticed through the engagement on this project and the visual demonstration of treated versus non treated sites that for some iwi, attitude about 1080 may be shifting. We consider this to be a significant result for Kia Wharite.

Community Education
Exposure has been provided through interpretation on both the Whanganui Journey down the Whanganui Awa and on the Mountains to Sea national cycle trail. This interpretation gives visitors to the area information about the Kia Wharite partnership and how it is helping to protect such significant natural places and so enhancing their back country experience. Further exposure through the media has raised awareness of the importance of such partnerships in large scale biodiversity management. The current partnership that DOC has with Air New Zealand around marketing of the 9 Great Walks takes into consideration Kia Wharite as a selling point to tourists and visitors to the region. The project has also been a focal point for interpretation at the Ruatiti Domain on the Manganui o te Ao River where whio populations are actively managed in conjunction with supportive landowners.

Economic and social growth
This has been demonstrated with an example being the success of Te Amo Taiao. This iwi work collective based from Taumarunui, has become fully established following its commencement at the beginning of Kia Wharite, approximately 4 years ago. Training of the group in pest control, track maintenance/ building, and fencing as well as two years guaranteed work has allowed for the group to gain experience and technical skills in biodiversity work and land management. They now operate as a team of 13 staff sourcing their own contracts working across many areas.

None of this could have been done without working partnerships with tangata whenua, particularly in Whanganui National Park, and with landowners along the Manganui o te Ao and Retaruke Rivers.

Where is the project?

The project area is centred on the Whanganui National Park, west of Ohakune, and includes long sections of the scenic Whanganui, Retaruke and Manganui o te Ao Rivers. Horizons’ pest control efforts are focused on private land, working in conjunction with landowners, while DOC focuses on Crown land.

What's going to happen?

Over the next 10 years we hope to have:
  • The entire area (180,000 ha) under possum and rat control, and receiving pest plant control as well as 35,000 ha receiving goat control.
  • 50 km of the Retaruke and Manganui o te Ao Rivers under an active pest management regime for mustelids and cats.
  • A large number of the privately-owned bush remnants and wetlands in the project area are fenced to prevent stock access, and significantly increase Kiwi, Blue Duck (Whio) and other wildlife numbers and improve forest health.
The main focus of the project has been to work collaboratively to control the pests that threaten the future of species, such as kiwi & whio (blue duck), and their forest habitats. This has meant large scale projects to control possums, stoats, rats and goats. The project also works to develop farm plans and the protection of riparian margins of streams and rivers in the catchment.

By working together agencies and communities can achieve more at a lower cost.