Posted By QEII National Trust | August 9, 2023

Protecting rare and threatened species on limestone outcrops in the eastern South Island is a serious business – rare plants, elusive lizards and shy moths are just some of the species being protected as part of a QEII National Trust project to protect threatened flora and fauna at up to 40, high priority QEII-covenant sites.

Rick and Angela Stolwerk own a 600-hectare sheep and beef farm in southern Marlborough that is home to some of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most threatened species. Rick says they were inspired to find out more about the flora and fauna present on their property, Mirza Downs, after an ecological survey in 2008 discovered outstanding natural values on the property, many on limestone outcrops.

“Angela and I bought this property in 2005. It’s a typical Marlborough coastal East Coast sheep and beef property, traditionally with very dry summers. The limestone features of this special piece of coast are spectacular and awe inspiring but, in addition to the geological features, it was awesome to discover that the flora and fauna are stunning too – and in many cases, special to this area,” said Rick.

Following their discovery, Angela and Rick registered two QEII National Trust covenants on the property, in 2013 and 2019, thus protecting 135.5 hectares of habitat for over 25 species of endangered and critically endangered plants and animals, including Rick’s favourite, the Kiwaia ‘Cloudy Bay’ moth – a tiny, flightless moth that mainly jumps to get around.

Kiwaia Cloudy Bay moth - Photo credit - Robert Hoare

“It is most definitely my favourite – this miniscule moth is super special. Being ‘Threatened, Nationally Critical’ has certainly raised its profile on our property. I am keen to do what it takes to make sure that this moth survives as its habitat is decreasing rapidly. Its present distribution is limited to the east coast, so having the largest known population on our property makes it a ‘must-save’ for me,” said Rick.

Thankfully a QEII National Trust-led project, funded by Jobs for Nature, is improving the stewardship of high-priority areas like Rick and Angela’s property, by engaging experts to assist landowners to better care for the rare and threatened plants and animals located inside their covenants and providing funding support for required management activities.

Experts have been engaged to conduct ecological surveys of approximately 40 QEII-covenanted sites in the eastern South Island. The surveys provide information on the status and distribution of the threatened or at-risk species and offer advice on the short and long-term management of the covenant, including how to address threats to ecological values.

Raoulia and Pimelea mats

It’s serious conservation work and Rick and Angela were pleased to be selected to participate in the project. Ecological reports found 27 species of plants and seven animals (lizards and invertebrates) classified as threatened/at risk and identified a range of ecological threats, such as the Asian paper wasp. The reports recommended various actions specific to the property, including controlling weeds and exotic grasses, light sheep grazing of some open areas, managing vehicle access and appropriate pest control methods.

“The ecological reports show how special this area is and the Jobs for Nature funding has been a real game changer for us and our covenant,” said Rick.

“Up until this project started, we were struggling with pest control in the covenant. The journey is not over, but this funding has enabled us to knock a large hole in not only wilding pines and old man’s beard, but also the many animal pests which, up until now, have run amok among the birds and invertebrates.”

Strong partnerships have developed throughout the project and Rick emphasised the support of others and the importance of working together.

“The opportunity to meet like-minded people who have the same intergenerational aspirations as Angela and I – to see this area return to its original healthy coastal ecosystem – has been amazing. There is no way that one or two individuals can achieve the aspirational goal of habitat restoration, it is only possible by partnering with all like-minded groups.

“We’ve been fortunate to have the support of our lessees Brett Solly and Jo Cameron, and we have received significant assistance not only from QEII, but also Marlborough District Council, the Department of Conservation, the East Coast Protection Group, local iwi and many other local contractors and community groups. Everybody has given selflessly of their time and some have assisted financially as well.”

Rick and Angela are positive about the future of the rare and threatened species living in their covenant and keen to build on the work that has been started. “Let’s carry on and complete the job,” said Rick.