In an ambitious programme to `bring back the birds' 1000ha of the Kaimai Forest park is to come under an extended pest control project.
The canopy of the Aongatete forest is a skeleton of its former self but a team of volunteers is working to help the forest regenerate and bring back the birds.
Forest and Bird and the Aongatete Forest Restoration Trust will increase the area they have been working in since 2006 with the aim of controlling possums, stoats and rats further into the forest.
It was Forest and Bird and the Katikati Rotary Club which set up the Aongatete Forest Restoration Trust with the support of local landowners and Ngai Tamawhariua and in the last seven years teams of 80 volunteers have set out 40kilometres of bait lines and 1000 bait stations that they regularly check and re-fill with bait.
The project's work was outlined at a barbeque near the Aongatete Lodge recently. when trust member Basil Graeme explained to Rotary Club members what had been achieved to date and plans for the future.
The Aongatete Forest was once home to kiwi, and kokako but they are now gone and other native birds have decreased in numbers. The forest is falling silent and the canopy is a skeleton of its former glory, says Basil.
Possums, stoats and rats are the main problem, eating vegetation, fruit and seeds, birds, lizards and insects, while the biggest single threat is the ship rat – which can cause local extinction of some species, he says.
The rats eat birds' eggs, nestlings, insects, lizards and seeds of the forest trees. In a single year a female rate can have up to six litters of 10 young. It is estimated the ship rat destroys more than 26 million New Zealand birds every year.
Since the project began Basil says the forest around the Aongatete area is more lush and healthy and with fewer seeds being eaten, the under story is regenerating. More birds are also being seen.
“We can't bring back the huia, it's extinct, but we can bring back the birdsong and make Aongatete Forest healthy again,” says Basil.
Basil says the Aongatete Forest is special as it where the northern forest elements of the kauri meet southern beech forests.
To achieve its ambitions of extending the area under pest control the Aongatete Forest Restoration Trust needs the public's with maintaining the pest-controlled forest sanctuary, education and public awareness, monitoring of forest health, volunteer activities and paying for rat bait.
The public can help with donations, but volunteers are also welcome to help maintain the bait lines, something Basil says is a very nice sociable walk in the bush along with doing something useful.