Restoration research: Punakaiki Coastal Restoration Project: 2014-2016

After the first phase of restoration activities in the PCRP (2008-2013), an ongoing partnership agreement was arranged between Rio Tinto, Department of Conservation (DOC), Conservation Volunteers New Zealand (CVNZ) and Lincoln University, to cover the period 2014-2016. The partnering vision was updated to reflect and build on the progress made during the initial PCRP term: “The Punakaiki Coastal Restoration Project (PCRP) aims to restore the sand plain forest on the Te Ara Taiko Nature Reserve, land previously used for grazing and mining on the Northern Barrytown flats, that spans the mountains to sea. This will protect and enhance the unique ecological values of the Punakaiki area, which include the only nesting ground of the Westland Black Petrel, natural habitat of the Blue Penguin and the remnant sand plain forests bearing Nikau Palms and Rata trees many hundreds of years old." (Agreement to extend the Westland Petrel partnering agreement (Simpson Grierson, 19/12/13). Key partnership objectives were identified, which included the shared objective to ensure a sustainable future for the Te Ara Taiko nature reserve and adjacent conservation lands, which reflected the partners shared commitment to a collaborative approach to ecological restoration, and a belief in the value of research, innovation, education and community engagement. A continuation of the assisted restoration process towards a functioning sand-plain [or wetland] ecosystem involved the planting of over 150,000 eco-sourced trees, shrubs and flaxes has in effect, established the foundations of this change. Further work over the last three years (2014-2016) has built on this by enhancing diversity and protecting the first five years’ investment. These objectives were to protect and enhance the existing restored areas, so further developing the knowledge base on the site in order to improve and increase the collective science of nature conservation and restoration in NZ and globally, as well as providing interpretive and educational resources to foster knowledge [and engagement] in and around species protection and restoration. More specifically, the new partnership agreement aimed to develop “internal” and alternate funding towards project self-sufficiency. The PCRP is planned to become an integral part of the Punakaiki visitor experience through the development of high quality visitor experiences, and provide a world class model of a collaborative approach to nature conservation. The restoration work over the three-year period included specific tasks to enhance the existing plantings through under-planting to increase species diversity and to enhance connectivity of remnants; contain the spread of gorse and blackberry, and to develop the nursery capacity to a point of project self-sufficiency. A project implementation plan has been prepared, aiming to demonstrate conservation leadership through partnerships. Conservation at the PCRP should develop economic and business opportunities, and demonstrate enduring value for New Zealand citizens. Research and monitoring will be carried out around biodiversity and offsets to build up global knowledge about sustainability. Research findings during the three-year period provide a “living lab” for the development of research skills, to increase opportunities to educate citizens about biodiversity and species protection. Future plans for the PCRP aim to create a positive experience for volunteers, visitors and stakeholders in order to increase numbers of people involved in conservation by providing hands-on experience for development of restoration-based skills. In turn, this will provide an evidence base for expert volunteer recruitment and management, and develop a flagship partnership showing innovation and expertise. This report, which documents research and monitoring activity and findings from 2014-2016, provides an update to Hahner and Bowie (2013).
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