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In New Zealand one square mile in every dozen is in a National Park says PETER FROST

New Zealand is just a little larger than the British Isles. They have just 14 National parks but amazingly they occupy eight per cent of the entire land area.

We visited the island of Urupukapuka where we met two National Park Rangers – one of the four legged variety. Dogs are normally banned from this island, one of a number in the Bay of Islands that have been cleared of all small predator animals like rats, mice, stoats, weasels, ferrets and dogs and cats.

These are all introduced non-native species. Indeed when the Maori arrived sometime around the year 1300 New Zealand only had two species of land mammals both tiny bats. The Maori brought some animals with them and later Europeans introduced many species, some useful, many pests.

The total lack of native predator mammals and reptiles had encouraged flightless and ground nesting birds. Our four legged ranger visits the island about once a fortnight to catch and eliminate any rats that have made the several mile swim to the island or have landed from careless visiting boats.

It is all part of a ‘Project Island Song’ campaign to keep the outcrops predator free and encourage the ground nesting birds. The only other dogs allowed on the islands are two specially trained terriers whose job is to flush out the rare spotted kiwi when the rangers are using ride-on mowers to cut the hay. This saves the birds from being killed or injured by the mowing.

Cape Reinga is the northern most point of New Zealand, right at the top of the North Island. It is known to the Maori as Te Renga Wairua a place of special spiritual importance to the Maori peoples who believe that when they die their spirits leave the islands via this cape and head north back to their mythical homelands in the Pacific.

On one the Cape’s headland a huge scheme to replace the many introduced and foreign species of plants with native flora was being funded by government but in an echo of our own National Park spending that money has now been cut.

However volunteers are continuing the scheme and Ann and I sponsored and planted a native tree to help with this inspiring project.

Some Kiwi Statistics

New Zealand population; 4.5 million

Maori population 16% of total

Visiting Tourists; 2 million per year

Sheep; 40 Million

Beef Cattle; 5 million

Dairy Cattle; 6 million

Red Deer; 1 million, half farmed and half feral

Kiwis; 70,000 and reducing

Possum; at least 20 million and growing

The possum was introduced as a fur animal (rather like our own beloved Coypu) now it is a massive pest and despite a campaign to eliminate it the possum population is rocketing.

This article first appeared in The Broads National Park Bulletin in 2011. 

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