Stewart Island.. The Worlds Largest Predator Free Environment ??



New Zealand And Introduced Predators

As far as I am aware only New Zealand and Hawaii were mammal free lands before the arrival of human beings, and as such have very real issues with some of the mammalian species which have since arrived, either as accidental or later regretted introductions.

Because of course our ecosystems never really learned how to protect themselves against a completely new threat. There is not the scope or time in this blog to explore all the many ramifications of these threats, but just as an example, here on Stewart Island rats invaded Big South Cape Island, the last refuge of South Island Saddleback in 1961 0r ’62. From what was a vigorous population of saddleback, by 1968 was reduced to just 16 birds salvaged, and relocated to rat free islands. Of which we had just a handful, rats being such aggressive colonisers. Destruction is not of course restricted to birds. Browsing animals, including several species of deer, introduced for sport in the early 1900’s and the Australian Possum, introduced for a possible fur trade around the same time are having a severe impact on much of our native flora. Many of our forests are effectively bare of several species of juvenile trees and other plants.

The Start of it

Back in 1969, when I arrived on Stewart Island, part of my responsibility included Ulva Island. The story of Ulva is long and interesting, but for a summary it might be interesting to read a short essay I wrote for Indigena Magazine some time ago. Ulva Island.

The Result

Ulva Island is now free of introduced Animals, the second Island in the world to be so as far as I am a ware. And as such has really become a window into New Zealands past, as the longer I watch the Island recover from the damage rats and deer had inflicted on both native flora and fauna, the more I realise how little we know about what our forests actually used to look like.

The lessons learnt on Ulva, and perfected and evolved on subsequent projects all around the world that New Zealand expertise has been involved with led in 2008 to a scoping plan looking at removing the rats, feral cats and possums infesting all of Stewart Island. This was commissioned by the Tindall Foundation. Scoping Plan

It was one of those plans that was quite breath-taking in its vision, but equally for most of us probably relegated to the “one day when we are rich and famous” basket. After all, Stewart Island is around 17000 hectares in size, plus has as many as 200 small to quite sizeable off shore islands. The terrain is steep and rugged, the vegetation ranges from heavy temperate rainforest to open feld fields, the coast is both iron bound and sandy beaches. And our weather is changeable to say the least. ….A drought on Stewart Island is 5 days without much rain…..

But like so many things it sometimes just takes someone with vision (and guts) to say.. “we can do that”.

A Vision

The Weather wasn’t wonderful, but as always Ulva Island charmed our visitors


Kaka come to see

Gareth Morgans “Our Far South”

Gareth explains his vision to a fascinated audience

A couple of days ago the Island was host to Gareth Morgan, a New Zealand Investmant Manager and Eco Visionary.

I was privileged to be invited to join a small group of local guides, Ulva Island Trust members and DoC Staff showing Gareth and his party just what has been achieved on Ulva, our vision of what Ulva might look like in the future, and just what Stewart Island might also look like.

That evening Gareth took his vision to one of the largest community meetings I have ever attended. The environmental benefits are obvious, but he focused as much as anything on the economic and social benefits to our small (380 residents) community. The meetings response was gratifyingly positive.

There will be issues of course.

  • Cost….

    perhaps as much a $50 million,

  • Logistics…

    in actually doing the eradication work,

  • Biosecurity…

    issues around the potential for re-infestation,

  • Social Issues …

    perhaps a little bit overlooked is just how we as a community manage what would probably be a huge influx of visitors, coming to see what would be a world showpiece for Conservation.

One is reminded of the quote from Oscar Wilde:-

Yet each man kills the thing he lovesBy each let this be heardSome do it with a bitter lookSome with a flattering wordThe coward does it with a kissThe brave man with a sword

I know we can do it, I can only hope we try and that we get it right.

Watch this space !!!!!!

Peter Tait

Peter Tait

Peter Tait is a professional nature guide based at Stewart Island, New Zealand, and he works primarily on Ulva Island Open Sanctuary. Peter has been resident on the Island for over 40 years and was one time Forest Ranger in Charge of Stewart Island. Fishing followed forestry and was in turn followed by Talisker, a 17m charter yacht. He is qualified Skipper Deep Sea Fishing Vessel. In addition to guiding Peter and his wife Iris are hosts at Sails Ashore Lodge.

Peter Tait

Peter Tait

Peter Tait is a professional nature guide based at Stewart Island, New Zealand, and he works primarily on Ulva Island Open Sanctuary. Peter has been resident on the Island for over 40 years and was one time Forest Ranger in Charge of Stewart Island. Fishing followed forestry and was in turn followed by Talisker, a 17m charter yacht. He is qualified Skipper Deep Sea Fishing Vessel. In addition to guiding Peter and his wife Iris are hosts at Sails Ashore Lodge.

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Craig Cudworth

A window of hope for this special place Fantastic work!