Both world heritage sites and national parks are, by their very nature, representations of special landscapes with unique flora and fauna. The balancing act – between managing protection and managing people who visit – is complex and needs to be sustainable. In the case of Fiordland, Forest and Bird are concerned. What are your views? Comment below or click to twitter here.
Proposed mega-developments to enhance the journey between two of New Zealand‘s most popular visitor attractions have opponents warning that life in a precious World Heritage Area and national parks will suffer. NZ Herald reports.
But those behind the two planned developments for travel between Queenstown and Fiordland – including a monorail which could prove to be the longest in the world – say they will provide a much-needed lift for New Zealand tourism.
The first proposal is the $150 million Fiordland Link Experience which would include a 41km monorail trip through conservation land that takes in Te Wahipounamu (South West New Zealand) World Heritage Area. The monorail would link tourists with catamaran and all-terrain vehicle trips.
The second is an 11km bus tunnel called the Milford Dart, costing up to $170 million Those behind it say it would cut travel time for a one-way trip from five hours to two for some of the half-million tourists who visit Milford Sound every year.
Forest and Bird warns both developments would have significant impacts, especially the monorail proposal which it says would require clearance and modification of 68ha of forest, home to endangered bat species and threatened forest birds.
“Neither of the proposals is essential. The public and tourists already have access by way of public roads to these areas in the national parks and the jury is out as to whether they would alleviate congestion at Milford.”
Riverstone Holdings – the company behind the monorail proposal – has hit back, with chief executive Bob Robertson saying: “Forest and Bird can flap their wings all they like but I think people in New Zealand would like to earn a reasonable living. Tourism is very important.
“Once the monorail is there it will be the same environmental impact whether it’s one person using it or one million.”
Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson has given notice of her intention to grant concessions for the parties to investigate, construct, operate and maintain the two projects on the public conservation land, and public submissions are being taken ahead of hearings on both.
Southland district mayor Frana Cardno said that aside from her “extreme concern” about environmental effects from the Milford Dart tunnel, there was no need to speed up journeys through the scenery.
“We need to have quality tourism in New Zealand, and there’s already perfectly adequate ways of getting to Milford. What we have got to do is slow people and let them enjoy that magnificent drive.”
Milford Dart Ltd managing director Tom Elworthy said he suspected some of the opposition to the project was motivated by reasons other than environmental.
“I guess there’s people that just have an issue with the fact of a tunnel being in a national park. I suppose if we started outside the national park and ended outside the national park, I imagine people possibly would still have a problem because of the fact it’s there – even though you can’t see or hear it.”
Mr Elworthy said he did not see the Fiordland Link Experience as direct competition to the Milford Dart. Mr Robertson said it might be that there was room for only one of the two developments, and he backed his monorail as more likely to succeed.
Getting from A to B
The Fiordland Link Experience, over 106km, would start with a 20km catamaran trip on Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu, before linking with an all-terrain vehicle for 45km, onto a 41km monorail trip through Snowdon Forest to a terminus at Te Anau Downs, in Fiordland National Park.
The 11.3km Milford Dart tunnel would link the Routeburn Road in Mt Aspiring National Park to the Hollyford Road in Fiordland National Park, passing under national park land and Fiordland’s Humboldt Mountains.
The Department of Conservation is taking submissions on both proposals.
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Stoats have wreaked havoc on the birds of New Zealand. Now conservationists are fighting back. The Independent reports
The terrible irony of creatures – mammals in this case – introduced with good intentions, but with negative, deadly, unforeseen consequences
In Britain, stoats are part of the rhythm of nature. They prey on rabbits and rats; they are preyed on by foxes and eagles. In New Zealand, whose only land mammals were two species of bats until Europeans arrived, stoats are the single biggest threat to the unique and increasingly threatened native birdlife.
A world leader in conservation, New Zealand has saved some of its rarest birds from extinction by ridding off-shore islands of predators. Stoats, which can swim, were thought to have a maximum range of 1.5 kilometres (less than a mile). Recently, though, the sleek, furry killers have turned up on an island more than five kilometres from the mainland, raising questions about the safety of offshore sanctuaries.
Many of New Zealand’s birds live and nest on the forest floor. Some, such as kakapo, weka and kiwi, are flightless. When they feel under threat, they freeze, making them easy prey for animals such as rats, cats and ferrets. Stoats – introduced in 1884 to combat a rabbit plague – are particularly formidable predators. They can tackle animals 10 times their body weight; they hunt by day as well as at night; they can travel vast distances, climb trees, and survive in almost any habitat. They are also prolific breeders, and they kill far more than they need to satisfy their hunger.
“When stoats get into a seabird colony or chicken hutch, they kill everything,” says Andrew Veale, an expert on stoat genetics at Auckland University. He cites credible reports of a moorhen being attacked by a stoat and taking off into the air, with the stoat still attached. Dr Veale says: “They are phenomenal killers, with an immense bite strength.”
More than 80 of New Zealand’s offshore islands are pest-free sanctuaries where all mammals have been removed through trapping, shooting, and dropping poison from helicopters. Last year, a stoat was found on Rangitoto Island, more than three kilometres off Auckland. The island had been declared predator-free only a year earlier, following a NZ$3m (£1.6m) eradication programme. By analysing the stoat’s DNA, Dr Veale established that it was from the mainland. This year, three stoats have been trapped on Kapiti island, a wildlife reserve 5.2 kilometres off Wellington. Dr Veale believes a female swam over and gave birth.
The destructive potential of stoats is well established. A single male killed 93 petrels on Motuotau island, in the Bay of Plenty, in four weeks. There have been instances of one or two stoats arriving on islands and wiping out entire populations. Philip Bell, a biosecurity officer with the Department of Conservation (DOC), said that if stoats could swim more than five kilometres, “there would be implications for the majority of islands around New Zealand”. He added: “A couple of stoats can create a breeding colony and wipe everything out. Stoats are arguably the biggest threat to our native bird species.”
They are also expensive. DOC has already spent more than NZ$200,000 trapping the three stoats on Kapiti. It will have to monitor hundreds of traps and tracking tunnels on the island for at least two years, as well as using dogs trained to detect stoats. No one is sure what prompts stoats to swim, although they appear to be in search of food. Dr Veale speculates that they take to the water after spotting land on the horizon. With the right tides, they could then travel considerable distances.
New Zealand’s first offshore wildlife refuge was established in 1891, on Resolution Island, off the South Island‘s Fiordland coast. A decade later, stoats reached Resolution and killed off its kakapo population. However, more island sanctuaries followed, and kakapo were among the bird species rescued from extinction. Another bird, the Chatham Islands robin, was down to five individuals; but after being transferred to an island, the population recovered.
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