Bream Head Reserve from Manaia

How It All Began

The story of the Bream Head Conservation Trust is an inspirational one. It is the tale of a bunch of Whangarei folk who came up and ran with the audacious idea to return the pest ridden Whangarei Heads Peninsula to its pre-European state of pristine forest. They wanted their birds back – native birds in particular – that had retreated en masse to Whangarei’s eastern offshore islands as introduced pests made nesting on the mainland an increasingly suicidal exercise.

Current Trust chairman, Greg Innes, explains:

“Predators had made Bream Head inhospitable to the birds that once filled its trees and the dawn with their chorus. Surrounded on three sides by sea, the peninsula presented an ideal opportunity for pest control programmes, and with the nearby offshore islands being a sanctuary for the birds that once lived here, we wanted to see if we could tempt them back again.”

2001 – The Seeds

The first murmurings of possibility began back in 2001. A group of Whangarei residents started the discussion, citing the ecological, cultural and historic importance of the Bream Head Scenic Reserve on the eastern side of the Whangarei Harbour entrance. This Department of Conservation (DOC) administered Reserve of some 800 hectares included grand geological features and the best broad-leaf pohutukawa forest in Northland.

The idea of a contrived and concerted effort to protect and regenerate that forest to encourage the return of bird life soon acquired a life of its own through a strong desire to increase the value of this outstanding place in the eyes of the community, and hopefully to work with DOC to look beyond protection to long-term restoration.

2002 – The formation of the Bream Head Conservation Trust

Thus the Bream Head Conservation Trust was formed in 2002, with Geoff Pike, Robin Lieffering, John Davidson, Don Hewitt, Mayor Craig Brown, and DOC representative, John Gardiner, as Trustees. Some time later Sir Edmund Hillary accepted the role of Patron, to be followed by Sir Paul Reeves on Sir Ed’s death.

Co-incidentally, in the same year there was a noticeable movement across New Zealand to predator-proof fence special, high-value ecological areas which had become known as ‘mainland islands’. In those early years the Bream Head Conservation Trust also explored this kind of fence as a means of reducing pests and, as a result, reducing the damage to both plant, animal and bird life. The size of the Reserve and difficult terrain meant millions of dollars would be needed to fund such a fence. This proved too enormous a task, so another way had to be explored.

“Initially the Trust believed the best means of realising their vision would be through pest eradication programmes and a predator proof fence at the base of the peninsula,” Greg Innes says. “However, the fence proved too expensive, so the only option was to intensify the pest management programmes with the support and guidance of the Department of Conservation.”

A Ranger for the Reserve

Instead, the Trust threw its energy into raising funds to contract the first ranger to oversee the trapping and poisoning of possums, mustelids and rats. This move proved an outstanding success and the Trust currently contracts 2½ full-time rangers, who in 2016 completed the trapping area to include the last of the most isolated and difficult terrain.

In his most recent Ranger’s Report, the Trust’s current Head Ranger, Adam Willetts, notes 180 pests caught in traps throughout 2015, down on the 207 caught the year before. The numbers are low for such an extensive area, although not low enough to prevent a tragedy resulting last year from what could have been one of the Trust’s greatest successes. It was Adam who made the exciting discovery in September 2015 of Grey-faced petrels nesting on Bream Head for the first time in decades, and who made the sad discovery that none of their eggs made it to hatching. However, there has been some significant good news. With pest levels now being maintained at low levels, the Trust released 40 North Island robins back into the Reserve in April 2016, and within another two years expects to release native whiteheads.

Community Involvement & Education

To their successful strategy for pest eradication the Trust added extensive community engagement and education programmes to create what would become an award winning and successful formula. Early in this process, the Trust had contracted two teachers to produce a multi-media and curriculum compliant educational resource which is available on this website. Trust members now help schools to implement the resource in their classrooms and provide experts to address classes on their specific areas of interest when they make Trust-funded on-site visits. The vision to expand the educational opportunities includes more tertiary students using the Reserve as a resource and the making of more educational short films to enhance the education resource.

The Friends of Bream Head

Today the Trust also has a growing body of paid-up members, known as ‘Friends of Bream Head’ who assist in planting around a thousand native trees and shrubs on the Reserve annually. These have been responsible for the growing health of its forests and profusion of birds in the last decade that regular visitors will have noticed. Greg Innes says the Bream Head Scenic Reserve would never have seen this transformation which has brought about re-colonisation by a number of iconic native bird species, such as kaka, had it not been for the contribution of this wide community of supporters.

“From our noted patrons to the locals who are the muscle behind the spades on planting days and who service trap lines, count lizards and snails, and maintain tracks, everyone has made a difference and contributed to the outcomes of which we are so proud,” Greg says. “We’ve also had huge support from sponsors such as our principal sponsor, Refining NZ, and Foundation North, Pub Charity and World Wildlife Fund. “Whangarei ratepayers and New Zealand taxpayers have also contributed, with the Department of Conservation, Whangarei District Council and the Northland Regional Council all providing resources to strengthen and broaden the Trust’s capabilities.”

The Westpac Business Awards

Their combined accomplishments haven’t gone unnoticed or unrecognised. In 2013 the Bream Head Conservation Trust won three prestigious awards at the Westpac Business Awards:

  • The Northland Regional Council Sustainable Business Award
  • Top Energy Best Not for Profit Organisation Award
  • Konica Minolta Excellence in Business Owner Operator Award.

The judges commented that the Trust “stood out for its outstanding level of connection with the community and all key stakeholders. It exhibited sound planning and monitoring, clearly defined and well implemented goals and strategies, well thought out long term planning and a sustainability of funding and engagement with the community that would ensure long term success.”

Future Plans for Success

That success enters a new phase this year with the completion of the Trust’s 2012 – 2016 five-year restoration plan and preparations underway to develop the 2017 – 2021 plan.

“In the last year alone the entire Reserve has come under full intensive predator control,” Greg Innes says. “We have purchased two shipping containers to serve as a Ranger/Volunteer operational base, fenced a 20 hectare riparian stream area in the Reserve that Whangarei Heads School has adopted to manage, planted 1000 native trees, and seen the discovery of a new skink species and a 100-plus percent increase in observation of Bream Head Skink as part of annual lizard survey.”

In the next five years the Trust hopes to advance its pest management programmes, expand the education resource for schools, grow bird, lizard and insect species monitoring, and encourage lots more people out into the Reserve to support its programmes or enjoy what 14 years of hard work have produced.

For those Whangarei residents living beyond the borders of the Reserve, perhaps the most exciting of the new plan’s highlights is the translocation programme.

“We hope the North Island robin released this year, and the whiteheads to be released in 2017, will establish and thrive there, perhaps eventually spreading throughout the district as the successfully self-introduced kaka has,” Greg Innes says “To have these birds in our gardens will be a privilege and pleasure not known for generations in Whangarei. We know we have done our best to prepare the Bream Head Scenic Reserve to receive, nurture and pass them on, and can then only entrust them to nature to do the rest.”

As a community, government, iwi and corporation joint project, there can be no doubt that the restoration of this outstanding ecological headland has proved a great success and an example to other groups around New Zealand of what can be done to restore the ecological health of their precious places.

While the Bream Head Conservation Trust looks back in gratitude to those early trustees and all who have helped since, it also looks forward to many more years of protecting and preserving the native creatures of the remarkable Bream Head Scenic Reserve.