Reviewed by Tony Orman.

Great Stories of New Zealand Conservation by Alan Froggatt

Author Alan Froggatt has a long history in conservation endeavours. He has been a keen tramper, hunter, bird watcher and freshwater angler among several outdoor pursuits. He is a long-time member of Forest and Bird and of several conservation dedicated groups such as Friends of the Waikanae River, the Kapiti Ecological Restoration and Maintenance Trust and Friends of the Kaitawa Reserve.

Breakthroughs and controversies

This book deals with conservation issues and achievements and therefore delves into some areas of controversial debate such as 

  • management of the Himalayan tahr in the Southern Alps, 
  • eradicating pest fish 
  • Molesworth station
  •  wilding pines 
  • the discovery of the takahe by deerstalker Dr Geoffrey Orbell
  •  pest control technologies 
  • the hunt for the South Island kokako. 

There are also contentious issues such as 1080 poison, the role of wild deer in the ecosystem, the value and problems of possums and campaigns like Predator-Free NZ 2050.

Kiwi killed by 1080?

He writes “since 1990, there has been no record anywhere off a kiwi dying from 1080 poison.” But I recall interviewing a Karangarua farmer the late Ivor Scott who told me after the blitz of 1080 on South Westland’s Karangarua Valley, the kiwi vanished. 

Another friend in Hawkes Bay, a long time outdoor sportsman and conservationist, found dead kiwi after an aerial drop of 1080 upon the bush country by the Napier-Taupo highway. 

Ravaged Forests

Alan Froggatt maintains “without its [1080] use New Zealand … would have unchecked predators and ravaged silent forests.”

Ecosystems and predator-prey relationships don’t, in the vast majority of cases, happen like that. The kea – the subject of one chapter – was abundant until about 2000, despite predators having co-existed with the mountain parrot for 200 years. There has to be another reason. Readers conversant with the high country will no doubt make up their own minds.

Somehow his analysis of the 1970s “Save Manapouri” controversy suggests the Nature Conservation Council which Labour’s cabinet minister Geoffrey Palmer short-sightedly obliterated in his “Quango Hunt” in 1990 was formed following the Save Manapouri issue. 

In fact the Nature Conservation Council was formed in 1962. It was a government agency set up largely in response to the increasing opposition to a hydro-electricity scheme that was being planned at that stage, for Lake Manapouri. Despite being a government agency, embarrassingly for the National government, the council opposed the plan to raise Lake Manapouri in the public’s Fiordland National Park.  The power was essentially for a trans-national corporation’s aluminium smelter at Bluff.

Some flaws but an interesting read

A friend now retired from a working life with the Wildlife Service and then the Department of Conservation, worked at the Mt Bruce Wildlife Reserve north of Masterton and first hand on some of the chapter subjects covered in Great Stories of New Zealand Conservation.

He said, “Sadly, and unfortunately, there are considerable inaccuracies — with a little more research and effort, the book could have been so much better.”

Unfortunately, some proof-reading errors crop up such as the names of Forest and Bird officer Kevin Hague and DOC scientist Josh Kemp. Disappointingly, a number of chapters are very brief, hardly doing subjects justice. Nevertheless, the book is an interesting read.

Great Stories of New Zealand Conservation by Alan Froggatt is published by White Cloud Books Upstart Press, RRP $39.99. 

The Story of New Zealand’s Unique Birds: from Adzebill to Yellow-eyed Penguin

New Zealand has, and has had, an extraordinary range of plants and animals, some extinct before the second wave of migrants in the 19th century and some that became endangered soon after the European colonisation.

1080 poison is not the best way to preserve our bird life

New Zealand has embarked on solutions to the demise of bird life which is commendable in purpose, although not always with the best direction. Dealing to predators by mass killings is not necessarily the best way to increase bird life. Often 1080 poison is used. 

1080 is an indiscriminate killer and as it was first developed as an insecticide, it therefore kills invertebrates — the food of insectivorous birds and others like kiwi and kea. It also kills birds that take the poisoned baits and animals, in total anything that ingests the toxin. Furthermore a poisoned carcass retains the poison so any creature scavenging also gets poisoned — termed “secondary poisoning”.

Furthermore, research (Wendy Ruscoe, 2007) has shown that after 1080 has killed perhaps 80%–85% of rats, the surviving rats with abundant food, hit back with their prodigious breeding ability and about 18 months on have increased to pre-poison levels and 18 months further on, have increased to at least three times original numbers. 

1080 disrupts the food chain

Sadly the disruption to the food chain doesn’t end there. Stoats whose main prey are rats, undergo a similar mushrooming in numbers. The end result of the 1080 drop is far more rats and far more stoats. With the artificially escalated numbers, in about four years after the initial drop, another 1080 drop is required.

The picture on page 14, of a possum eating a chick was exposed several years ago by a Nelson Conservationist as being “Photoshopped.”

But there is to commend the book

The cover is very striking and just in the first few pages inside there’s a great double spread of a Haast Eagle attacking a pair of moa. 

Information on birds, that became extinct between the arrival of Polynesian and European migrants, has been lacking in literature, but this book goes a long way to fill that gap with excellent photos and concise chapters. 

There’s a very worthwhile list of birds that have been wiped out ranging from moa to the moa’s predator the Haast’s Eagle to the Laughing Owl, the predatory Adzebill, Eyles’s Harrier, the North Island Goose and several others. With the current fad of making “New Zealand Predator-Free” by 2050, it’s timely that it is pointed out that predators existed in New Zealand’s avian ecosystems long before Europeans arrived.

Other birds which still exist today are very adequately covered. Well recommended.

The Story of New Zealand’s Unique Birds: from Adzebill to Yellow-eyed Penguin by Alan Froggatt is published by White Cloud Books, Upstart Press.