photo by Phil Brown
Wellingtonians know how the Karori sanctuary has transformed their city. Sightings of species such as kaka, which would have been worthy of a press report 20 years ago, have become almost ordinary.
Apart from a handful of dedicated grumblers disturbed by the dawn chorus, the city’s population has delighted in the visible explosion in birdlife.
I can recall the private scepticism that the trust’s founding enthusiasts provoked in the early 1990s. While the vision was applauded, the scale of the New Zealand’s biodiversity catastrophe seemed almost overwhelming. Some regarded it as a quixotic gesture when the nation’s forests were collapsing around us. To others, wrapping the reserve in a predator exclusion fence was an admission of defeat – that the war was lost and that the only future for our native birds would be in outdoor museum enclosures.
How wrong they were. The trust’s most brilliant insight was to create a refuge in the heart of the capital where it could not be ignored. It created a popular constituency that has been infectious. Last week I visited the most spectacular outpost of this restorative contagion: Maungatautari. Just south of Cambridge, this deeply dissected basaltic volcano has become the international leading edge for ecological restoration, on a scale and with meticulousness that almost defies belief.
It is the size of the pest-excluded area that is mind-boggling: 3300 hectares protected by 42 kilometres of fence is an order of magnitude larger than Karori. Unlike Karori, the ancient forest canopy is still intact with huge rata and rimu. And the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust has an even more ambitious goal than its Karori counterpart. For while Karori has eliminated the large familiar intruders, such as possums and stoats, it hasn’t eliminated mice. Maungatautari is within a stone’s throw of achieving that.