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Science in the field

Date: 14th May 2024

On a chilly day in May complete with even colder rain the wilding programme Technical Advisory Group (TAG) visited Flock Hill Station in Canterbury. We were accompanied by scientists from Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Scion, Canterbury and Lincoln Universities as well as Nick Ledgard, Rich Langley from ECAN, Rich Hill the Flock Hill farm manager some of the South Island staff from the MPI National Wilding Team. It was an excellent day with much spirited conversation and lively debate.

The TAG and science partners hiding the really good lunch we got!

For those of you who don’t know this part of the country Flock Hill is a working station of 36,000 acres (14,568ha) in the Craigieburn Valley in the South Island. Located close to Arthur’s Pass, it is a place of spectacular natural beauty https://www.flockhillnz.com/the-property and home to a sheep and beef farming operation but also home to a tourism business based around the natural and remote character of the station.

The purpose of the visit was to look at a place where wilding work has been going on for an extended period since they were established back in the day as erosion and experimental plantings by the NZ Forest Service.

Pinus contorta just love Flock Hill – they are everywhere but there are also signs of how successful the station along with the National Programme, ECAN and WELRA have been with control over the years. It is a demonstration of how valuable these partnerships that are echoed nationwide are. The above picture taken from the western side of the main road shows a) how accurate aerial and ground control can be close to native and b) the importance of control in areas that are farmed but also areas where native forest can easily be taken over by wilding trees.

Our group visited an area where an extensive area of 4-year-old contorta is readying itself for expansion. Many trees were festooned with cones (as below). All were healthy and there was very little sign of smaller seedlings.

Rich Hill explained how challenging managing wildings are with stock when markets are so volatile. Merino wethers chomp small wildings quite happily. For those non farmers, wethers are adult male sheep used for wool production. They’re hardy dudes, that will pretty much eat anything and don’t need as much energy as a ewe who has to produce the next generation and also look after herself as she’s doing this.

It’s hard to be green when you’re in the red. When markets and prices change unfavorably for extended periods, farmers like any other smart businesspeople change how they do things. Paddocks might be modified to be bigger; fences may be removed, and changes made to increase or move to cattle or other forms of income e.g. livestock cropping. Many people also diversify their income streams e.g. woodlots, tourism businesses. They also have to accept the challenges that come with that one of which is an increase in some weed species like wildings.

This is where the collaborative partnership between government agencies, landowners, community groups and science comes into its own and can be a really powerful tool to both capitalise on proven methods of control, what works in a particular location and how can we implement a control programme that is guaranteed to have a high rate of success in that place. Flock Hill is a great example of this where all of these stakeholders are constantly adapting management to get control of wilding contorta.

The science discussed on site at our TAG meeting was a mix of operational research e.g. which techniques are best for different areas (hose and gun spraying; aerial boom spraying; hand saw; grazing) and for want of a better term pure science e.g. quantifying, understanding and preventing reinvasion.

Thanks to the team that attended for agreeing to share the science discussed and to Thomas Paul from Scion for combining all the papers together. It’s a read well worth doing of very well written, easy to read and understand papers. If you would like to know more or use any of the information, please let me know and I will put you in touch with the person who is managing/undertaking that piece of work. It’s always good to get their permission to use information. Making contact with them often results in more good information as well as expanding your own network of contacts.

This is the landscape we all want to see and are working towards (ignore the little green trees to the left but it is reality – control – sustained control – zero density means reducing infestations down to manageable levels till the collective team working can get to zero density.

Congratulations to all the agencies and people who have and are still contributing to the work at Flock Hill. It’s an example of a productive landscape that also has significant biodiversity and natural heritage values that are all worth protecting. We can do this by the collective enduring partnerhsip that this project exemplifies.

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