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How Wellington Communities Are Helping Nature
© WWF-New Zealand

Did you know that just over 20 years ago, there were only six pairs of tūī in Wellington?

Or that a single hill in Wellington is home to a teeny tiny species of snail found nowhere else in the world?

These are some of the fascinating facts we learned at Saturday's “Restoration Day 2021” – an event put on every year by the Greater Wellington Regional Council, Department of Conservation, and their partners.

The event celebrates community groups working to protect and restore the environment of the Wellington region, and the taonga species that live within it. This year’s theme was “Birds, Bugs, & Lizards”, and here are some of the highlights:

Keynote speech by Paul Stanley-Ward

Paul leads Capital Kiwi, a community-led project bringing back wild kiwi to Wellington, and spoke about the incredible changes we’ve seen to biodiversity in the region in just the last 25 years.

Paul spoke about the critically low levels of biodiversity in Wellington in the mid-1990s, when there were only six pairs of tūī in Wellington! Because of the enormous efforts of council and community volunteers planting trees and controlling pests, and a predator-free Zealandia, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of native birds in Wellington. Now, tūī are a common sight, as well as kaka, kākāriki, kererū, and many more native taonga that are expanding their reach throughout our sububs.

Although this is a conservation success story, Paul noted that we still face many challenges. Here in Aotearoa we have 200 bird species and 4,000 species overall threatened or at risk of extinction. He spoke about moving from passive pride to active guardianship, and that we all have a part play – by trapping, planting natives, and asking your friends and neighbours to join you.

The whakapapa of trees: Sharlene Maoate-Davis

Sharlene spoke about mātauranga Māori and how storytelling anchors us into nature and complements the restoration work we’re doing. She spoke of the energetic and medicinal properties of kawakawa (macropiper excelsum), and of the importance of “Me mahi tahi tātou i a tātou” (We have to work together as one) to overcome our greatest conservation challenges.

‘Lightning round’ talks: experts sharing their knowledge on birds, bugs, lizards and other topics

Speakers included Bronwen Shepherd from the Te Ahumairangi Hill Ecological Restoration,  who told us about Potamopyrgus Oppidanus – the 3mm critically endangered freshwater snail that lives ONLY on Wellington’s Te Ahumairangi Hill and nowhere else on earth!

We also heard from DOC Kapiti Wellington district operations manager Angus Hulme-Moir, who spoke about ngā mokomoko – Aotearoa’s skinks and geckos, and the threats they are facing. He told us about cool species like the Harlequin gecko – one of the southernmost gecko species in the world, and the Alpine rock skink that lives below the snow in winter. He also said that sadly, 83% of New Zealand's 106+ endemic lizard species are threatened or at risk from habitat destruction and predation.

We heard about the importance of connecting with rangatahi (young people), and groups like Zealandia’s Rāngai Rangatahi / Youth Collective – a diverse group of young people aged 15-18 who are passionate about the environment with a goal to make change.

Field trip to Zealandia

We were introduced to New Zealand’s Bird Atlas – a collaborative citizen science project that helps inform bird research worldwide. Some of us went on the field trip to Zealandia to see how many rare and exciting native birds we could record using eBird, an app that allows easy data entry from the field.  It was a glorious day exploring Zealandia and we spotted kākā, tūī, takahē, tīeke, pāteke, and kererū.

If you want to give it a go, a good place to start might be the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey coming up from 26 June – 4 July!

© WWF-New Zealand
Birds at Zealandia

Closing address from George Hobson

George Hobson, Chief Policy Lead from Forest & Bird Youth spoke about how nature is in dire trouble, and that biodiversity loss is equally as concerning as climate change. In Aotearoa, we have the highest proportion of threatened indigenous species in the world.

But he also spoke of hope. Hope in the community groups putting in the hard mahi every day, and the young people he’s worked with who are energised to be part of the solution. He challenged everyone there that day to engage with rangatahi in conservation projects, who will take on this critical mahi after we are gone.

We are so grateful for the amazing work communities are doing to make Wellington a beautiful city where our cherished native plants and wildlife can thrive. We are all part of the solution!

© WWF-New Zealand
George from Forest & Bird Youth