Posted By QEII National Trust | June 25, 2024

This story was originally published in Issue 106 of Open Space, the magazine of QEII National Trust. You can read the full issue on the publications section of our website.

In 2017, QEII established The Stephenson Fund, an annual contestable fund named in honour of Gordon and Celia Stephenson, key founders of QEII National Trust. The purpose of The Stephenson Fund is to support stewardship of QEII covenants and enhance our partnership with covenantors.

Every year, The Stephenson Fund supports an array of projects that protect, restore and manage a covenant’s open space values. The projects supported with funding might involve planting, weed control, pest control, track or access maintenance.

Continuing a legacy

When Tom Lynch bought a QEII-protected block of land in Whakatāne in 2022, it was with a vision to contribute to a regenerative future. “Our little block is a special little place, tucked in a wildlife corridor, bound by the headwaters of the Waikamihi river,” says Tom. The birdlife in the covenant is outstanding, with long-tailed cuckoo, whiteheads, tomtits, robins, a pair of falcons, kōkako, bellbird, tūī, grey warbler and more as frequent visitors.

Tom comes from a background of education at both Zealandia and Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari. Now running an ecotourism business, Tom sees the covenant block as a “little sanctuary” with its own link back to educating people about conservation.

“Because of my education background, we’ve been working with students from US colleges,” says Tom. “We’ve had 60 students working on this project, building bridges, doing weed control, planting trees – the kids were getting stuck in.” Receiving a grant from The Stephenson Fund has helped cover the cost of materials, so Tom and the students can get on with the job.

Large group of students building a simple bridge in a bush area across a stream

One aspect of the project was to create better access for the Manawahe Eco Trust, a local group undertaking comprehensive possum, rat and stoat control in the wider Manawahe ecological corridor. Thanks to the three bridges built by the students, the pest control volunteers no longer have to climb over slippery logs to reach the traps.

Unfortunately, deer browsing has been a significant issue for this area. Part of the project has involved restoring an existing deer trap so that it is once more ready for action. “There was an old deer trap from the 80s when we bought it and the grant helped us get building materials to fix that,” says Tom. Now that the trap is sealed with new mesh, held down with new strainers and had new gates installed, the team is hoping to catch a few deer this winter.

Another job on the list was to remove the blackberry and other weeds from the block, replanting with close densities of native plants to mitigate the reestablishment of weeds. After removing the blackberry, the students put 720 plants in the ground.

The Stephenson Fund has helped this project along. “We’re only a small business, and the work that we’ve done is only possible with the community and their support,” says Tom. “Funding and donations have supported us doing what we’re doing. Every dollar helps.”

Tom also has a connection to The Stephenson Fund on a personal level. “I met Gordon Stephenson through my connection to Zealandia and Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari,” says Tom. “This opportunity to create a little sanctuary here felt like a connection to this legacy.”

Large group of students taking a break around a couple of huts at Tom Lynch's covenant in Whakatāne
Students help out at Tom Lynch's covenant, Whakatāne. Provided by Tom Lynch

Holding fast against the deer invasion

Upper Hutt covenantors Ian Flux and Merryl Park have been on a pest control mission in their covenant, targeting pests big and small to protect nearly 100 hectares of native bush. The most recent stage of their project has involved building a deer and pig trap with the help of funding through The Stephenson Fund.

“Since around 2019, we’ve had increasing numbers of red deer moving into our block,” says Ian. “We’ve always had some feral pigs, but suddenly the red deer were coming in and destroying a whole lot of the bush, stripping miro trees and destroying the shrub layer.”

Bellbird fledgling perched on a branch
Newly fledged bellbird in the covenant. Photo credit: Ian Flux

Unfortunately, the close proximity of neighbours in parts of the property and the nature of the terrain took hunting off the table as an option for controlling the deer population on the property. But Ian and Merryl decided to take a different approach, choosing to build a deer and feral pig trap instead.

“Traps have been used for capturing deer for many years, especially in the 80s and 90s. We’d seen a few used in Fiordland and decided that could be a good idea, so we applied to The Stephenson Fund,” says Ian.

The Stephenson Fund covered the cost of the materials and running the vehicle, and Ian and Merryl contributed their time.

The couple chose a spot for the trap along an old deer track on a ridge that runs through the covenant. Ian and Merryl then built a 20 x 10-m pen of deer-mesh, with the base reinforced with chain-link mesh to prevent damage by pigs, and deer-gates at each end. A trip wire strung across the middle of the pen triggers the simultaneous release of both gates as large animals pass through the pen.

So far, Ian and Merryl have spotted some deer sign near the trap and have strategically placed a salt lick to tempt another deer visit. “We’re looking forward to getting this trap into use,” says Ian. “Hopefully we’ll be able to make a dent in the population.”

By controlling the deer roaming through their covenant, Ian and Merryl hope to protect the canopy trees that have been ringbarked, such as the miro (Pectinopitys ferruginea) and mataī (Prumnopitys taxifolia). It could also give other species in the covenant a chance to bounce back, like kanono (Coprosma grandifolia), karamū (Coprosma lucida) and porokaiwhiri (Hedycarya arborea), which are favoured by both deer and native fruit-eating birds.

The deer and pig trap is just one stage in a larger pest control effort in Ian and Merryl’s covenant. They have also put in a new network of traps to catch stoats as the first part of the project. “The traps were immediately successful. On our first round, we got three stoats, a weasel and several rats,” says Ian.

Find out more about The Stephenson Fund

The next funding round for The Stephenson Fund will open in July 2024.

If you have a covenant project in mind and want to know more about applying to The Stephenson Fund, contact your regional representative or visit our website for more information: