Tempello Bio-Diversity Project

1. Introduction:

Tempello is a 4800 hectare private property located a few kilometres to the south of Blenheim, owned by Joanna and David Grigg. The central part of the property includes a 1600 hectare area of forest and rocky bluff systems which has been identified as a Recommended Area for Protection (RAP W7) within the Wither Hills Ecological District (North, 2004: Wairau Ecological Region, Survey Report for the Protected Natural Areas Programme, Department of Conservation, Nelson). The Griggs vision for this area is to enhance and protect the native biodiversity, and to preserve the history and uniqueness so that it is a special place to visit, while continuing to successfully farm the remainder of the property (currently 6000 sheep, 450 cattle and 12 hectares of vineyard). Between September 2008 and May 2009, the “Tempello Farm Park - Conservation and Restoration Management Plan” was prepared (with funding support from the Biodiversity Fund administered by the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for the Environment). Continuing work on this Plan is now known as The Tempello Bio-Diversity Project. The purpose of this further Conservation Management Strategy is to more fully investigate the ecological values of the area and to identify and prioritise conservation management methods.

2. Objectives:

The Griggs vision is to successfully manage a private conservation and recreational reserve area that represents the essence of Marlborough’s natural and cultural history within their farm property by:

  • protecting and enhancing the diverse native biodiversity values of the area
  • preserving and enhancing the social and cultural history of the area so that it is a special place to visit
  • continuing to lightly graze parts of the area with merino sheep, without harming the natural values
  • implementing an ongoing programme of practical and effective conservation management
  • increasing the use of the area for recreation and tourism,

3. Summary of Natural and Cultural Values within the Conservation Management Area (CMA).

a) Natural Values.

The Tempello CMA includes a steep forested catchment along with open areas on the higher ridges and rocky spurs ranging in altitude from 300 to 900 metres. Annual rainfall is 600mm. It is located to the south of Blenheim, straddling the ridge between the Wairau and Awatere Valleys. It is located in the Wither Hills Ecological District within the Wairau Ecological Region.

The Geology is predominantly Mesozoic greywacke with a band of igneous rock cutting across the site in the mid to upper sections. The majority of the site is steep hill slopes with some easier slopes and flat areas along the ridges and on spurs and saddles.

The Tempello CMA is the largest natural area within the ecological region, and has the most diverse range of species and plant communities, including the last remnants of original forest species such as red and black beech, matai and Halls totara, as well as extensive areas of fifty year old regenerating kanuka forest and grasslands, shrublands and rocklands.

Nine key Vegetation Areas have been identified within the whole natural area. These areas highlight a variety of special features. Ongoing management and monitoring would be focussed on maintaining and improving the health and condition of these areas. A brief description of each of these areas follows.

  1. Long Gully: secondary kohuhu forest, grey scrub and volcanic bluffs
  2. Pink Broom Ridge: bluffs with uncommon plants, manuka slope, flax gully and orchid saddle
  3. Tinpot Hut and Pack track gully
  4. Toi Toi Flat: frost flat shrubland and grassland with wetland riparian zone.
  5. Black beech remnants with riparian bluff vegetation and lowland forest in kanuka matrix
  6. Broadleaved gully forest with matai
  7. The Ned: rocky bluff ridges, shrubland and remnant red beech and Hall’s totara
  8. Kanuka spur, with gully tree ferns
  9. Broadleaved riparian forest with cabbage trees and manuka

In regard to Native Fauna, the site is important as it is the largest and most intact natural area in the Ecological Region.

Birds - The area supports populations of rifleman (the only known site in the Wither Hills Ecological District), South island robin (one of two sites in the Ecological District, and tomtit (one of three sites in the Ecological District). Other birds recorded in the site include, brown creeper, fantail, grey warbler, waxeye, bellbird, kingfisher, long tailed cuckoo, black shag, kahu and eastern falcon.

Lizards - Five of the 13 species of lizards found in the south Marlborough area are known to be present in the general locality of the Tempello CMA. Of these, three are common (brown gecko species, Marlborough mini gecko and the common skink), while two are less likely to be found (forest gecko and spotted skink).

Invertebrates - A very limited invertebrate investigation was carried out over two days in December 2008. A wide range of species were found including moths and butterflies, caddis flies, beetles, grasshoppers and crickets and millipedes. Of note was the presence of a native snail species (Wainuia urnula nasuta) in key vegetation area 3 (Tinpot Hut and pack track gully area), which is generally uncommon.

Freshwater habitat - The Branch River contains a wide range of hydrologic conditions and aquatic habitats including riffles, runs, pool, cascades, small waterfalls, wood debris and cobble beds. Mayflies dominate the aquatic invertebrate fauna and upland bullies are the main fish species found. Koura are common. No migratory fish species such as longfin eel and koaro were observed, or are likely, due to the downstream presence of ephemeral reaches and the Taylor Dam. If fish passage or a trap and transfer system were put in place for the Taylor Dam the habitats present in the Branch River would be suitable for longfin eels and koaro.

b) Cultural/Historic values

In pre-European times Tempello is likely to have been part of a wider landscape used for bird capture by Maori. “The Ned” peak is likely to have been named as a predominant local landmark. Nearby Taylor Pass would have been a main route between the Wairau and Awatere Valleys.

The Tempello property has been farmed since very early in Marlborough’s farming history. It was originally part of Meadowbank Station which in turn was part of some of the founding sheep stations in Marlborough (the Omaka and Wither Runs). The Grigg family purchased Meadowbank Station in 1913 and Tempello was subdivided off in 1951.

The Tempello CMA contains the Tinpot Hut, an adobe clay hut likely built in the 1880’s when timber was scarce as a result of extensive land clearance by burning for farming, and before that by Maori. The Tinpot has been maintained in good condition and has been used as a regular base for mustering ever since it was built although this has been intermittent since 1990 as grazing was reduced in the locality of the hut. It is a popular spot for family gatherings and the Griggs have been generous in allowing public access over the years so that others could visit and explore the area. There is a second derelict adobe hut on the property and a lime kiln, both located in the lower Branch Creek outside the natural area site.

Tracks into the Tinpot area have been upgraded and extended over the years so that today there is a good four wheel drive road right through the natural area, up through the Brancott Gully on the northern side, down into the upper Branch valley near the Tinpot Hut, then up a steep spur to the little Ned before following along the ridge line just below the summit of The Ned and dropping down into the Taylor Valley. Other farm tracks join up with this route, notably a track from the north east along Orchard Spur through neighbouring Meadowbank and a track providing access south into the Blairich River and the Awatere Valley.

Today Tempello is farmed with sustainability and efficiency in mind and the Griggs are continually reviewing and improving their management practices. Tempello was the Marlborough Meat & Wool Monitor Farm from 2002-2005 and the Griggs are also members of the “Sheep 4 Profit” farm monitoring scheme. The focus has been on the management of subterranean annual clover on the property, along with fencing and water reticulation. This has resulted in an improved rate of natural fixation of nitrogen, reduced need for supplementary feeding and reduced incidence of over-grazing of pastures and an overall improvement in farm production and profitability.

The 1600 hectare Conservation Management Area has very little productive value apart from 2-3 months of summer/autumn grazing of merino wethers around the Tinpot Hut and the eastern Branch areas. The Griggs are committed to protecting and enhancing the diverse native biodiversity values and the historic values of the area as well as exploring its commercial potential through recreation and tourism.

4. Conservation Management Methods

The Tempello CMA is large and rugged and contains a variety of landforms and vegetation types. The immediate threats to the values of the area from farming activity including grazing and burning, have essentially been removed by the landowners. However, like most areas of native vegetation in New Zealand, animal and plant pests pose an ongoing threat to the area. They are likely to be causing a steady decline in values by slowing and altering natural regeneration processes and predating on native fauna such as insects, lizards and birds within the site (animal pests) and by spreading and displacing the existing vegetation in places (plant pests). Because some plant species have been heavily depleted (for instance pink brooms, matai, and both red and black beech), some specific protection through fencing and/or restoration planting may be desirable in some areas.

Animal Pests:

Without doubt the most significant ongoing threat to the site generally is browsing and land disturbance pressure from feral animals which prevents sustainable natural vegetation regeneration taking place. The combination of impacts from goats, deer and pigs is very evident in many places throughout the site although numbers and impacts will vary depending on the season, hunting pressure and so on.

A comprehensive animal hunting programme throughout the whole 1600 hectare site and some buffer areas outside the site (1400 hectares) is recommended, using experienced contract hunters. Goats, deer and pigs should all be targeted in this programme. Possums are currently at reasonably low numbers due to previous control through the Animal Health Board programme, including a 1080 aerial operation in 2000 and follow up work with Ferratox poison and trapping work in 2003/2004. It is not certain that the AHB will continue this work and if not, ongoing control to maintain the current low numbers is recommended. Potential possum numbers are likely to increase as a result of vegetation improvement following feral animal control.

Other animal pests like mustelids (stoats, ferrets, weasels) and rodents will be present in the site but control programmes for these are only worth considering once goat, deer and pig numbers are low and natural regeneration processes can re-establish. Even then any mustelid and rodent control would likely be targeted to specific areas which were particularly important for native fauna, for instance, protecting the populations of south island robin, rifleman and tomtit.

Recommendations: - Implement a comprehensive animal pest control programme for deer, goats and pigs throughout the site and including buffer areas and continue maintenance control annually for the subsequent four years and after this period every two years. - Continue maintenance control of possums with a two yearly poisoning programme.

Plant Pests:

Apart from wilding pines scattered throughout the site and one area of well established broom on the east Ned area, the Tempello CMA is relatively weed free and the weeds that are present are in quite low numbers. However, because of the low stature of the native vegetation due to the dry climate, infertile soils and higher altitude, the weed species present pose a high risk as they are all potentially invasive and are likely to out compete and replace native vegetation over time if left uncontrolled. Weed control priorities have been established by assessing the “weediness scores”, distribution, and control objectives.

Included as high priorities are, broom (outlying patches), gorse, grey and crack willow, buddleia, old mans beard, Mexican daisy and also blackberry and barberry if they begin to establish. Control of all these weeds combined would only take between two to three weeks, with annual surveillance monitoring to ensure no further invasion.

There are many wilding pines within the site, both in dense patches of between 30 and 1-200 trees (about 12 patches in total), and scattered in various parts of the site. The priority with these in most cases is to control scattered individual trees rather then dense patches. Drilling and poisoning can be used throughout the site except where trees are located on roads or tracks, and around the Tinpot hut area. These trees would need to be felled by professional contractors.

At a lower priority for plant pest control is the control of the main broom patch and areas of wilding pines at the eastern end of the site, in both these cases the focus should be on controlling scattered plants or patches before larger patches.

Recommendations: - Undertake immediate control of all high priority scattered weeds (broom, gorse, old mans beard, grey and crack willow, buddleia) - Consider an annual control programme for wilding pines starting in the south western part of the site and moving progressively towards the eastern part of the site.

Fencing:

Given the large size of the site, fencing to prevent larger animal pests (goats, pigs and deer) from re-entering is not considered feasible. Hunting in strategic buffer locations to the west and south of the site should be adequate. However the area immediately to the west of the CMA is on an adjoining landowner property and if buffer hunting in this area was not possible a pest resistant boundary fence (standard sheep netting fence) may be desirable to reduce re-invasion. An existing fence line may be able to be upgraded in places.

Individually fencing some of the special vegetation areas may be an option although will not be practical in most cases. Key vegetation site 2 (pink broom ridge area) in particular may be worth fencing as it contains a remnant pink broom population and would make a good site for restoration planting, is accessible and has easy topography making fencing practical.

Alternatively it may be more effective to fence some smaller areas within this area to focus protection of the existing plant and small intensively managed areas of restoration planting of further pink brooms. Key vegetation site 4 (Toi Toi Flat) would also be practical to fence, being the frost flat area downstream from the Tinpot hut, but this would only be necessary if restoration planting was undertaken and animal pests remained in reasonable high numbers and is not recommended at this stage. Small areas of fencing to create ‘exclosure plots” either for demonstration purposes or monitoring (or both), may also be desirable in several locations.

Recommendations: - Establish the potential to buffer hunt on neighbouring property to the west, consider upgrading/replacing the fence if this hunting is not possible - Carry out some fencing at key vegetation site 2 to protect the pink broom area and allow restoration planting to take place - Establish three 20m x 20m exclosure plots for monitoring and demonstration purposes

Restoration planting:

All special vegetation areas within the site will benefit significantly from the recommended animal pest control programme as natural regeneration will then be able to occur. For most species restoration planting is not necessary or practical although regeneration should be monitored in some sites to ensure it is occurring satisfactorily.

Pink broom is the priority species to restore to the site. Matai, red beech and Hall’s totara could also be considered. Seed collection of some of these species occurred in the autumn of 2009 and more could be carried out in 2010.

Recommendations: - Carry out restoration planting of pink broom at key vegetation site 2. - Collect matai, and possibly beech and Halls totara seed for enrichment planting within the wider site and also to allow propagation for restoration planting in the wider Taylor catchment and Wairau Plain area.

Monitoring:

If conservation management methods are implemented on the site, monitoring will be important to measure the condition of the site over time and to record changes. To some extent the monitoring methods will depend on the final management programme for the site.

Several techniques are likely to be useful including:- - “seedling ratio index” to measure vegetation recovery once grazing feral animals are reduced in numbers - one to three exclosure plots in a variety of sites and habitats, again to measure vegetation recovery and to demonstrate the difference in recovery where feral animals are completely excluded - specific checking of some of the key vegetation areas within the site, and areas where threatened plant species currently occur, to ensure specific plants are surviving and thriving (ie pink broom, matai, various of the threatened species) - possible use of original DOC PNA ecological unit cards to compare condition of specific areas - photo points in some locations would provide a useful visual record of changes to vegetation over time. - continued low key lizard monitoring in the form of lizard refuge sheets in specific locations, checked twice yearly

Recommendations: (assuming the recommended extensive animal pest control programme is implemented) - Establish 15 seeding ratio index transects and monitor these at three yearly intervals - Establish three exclosure plots within the site, (one each in key vegetation sites 3, 6 and 8) and monitor these at 3-5 yearly intervals. - Set up photopoints at several suitable locations to record vegetation change. - Install a number of lizard refuge sheets at selected sites and check these twice yearly to record lizard presence/absence and species found.

The Tempello Bio-Diversity Project is an on-going development.

For further information or enquiries, contact David and Joanna Grigg, Tempello, RD 2 Blenheim, 03 572 8164, tempello@xtra.co.nz