New Zealand is a fairy tale land which has been isolated in the Pacific Ocean for 80 million years. As a result of its unique evolution, New Zealand is a home to misfits and marvels – over 75% of our species are endemic, found nowhere else on the planet. Without the influence of land mammals, birds reign supreme, dominating every habitat. The rugged coastline once teemed with bizarre seabirds, and the primeval forests were home to many birds that no longer flew.
In the far north of New Zealand, the Bay of Islands is all that remains of drowned river valleys submerged by the sea after the last ice age. It’s now a remarkable feature of New Zealand’s spectacular geological landscape. What we see as islands are the hill-tops towering above the valley floors; hilltops that are in the gradual process of natural regeneration, with support from Project Island Song.
Seven of the major islands, with their associated islets and rock stacks, make up what is known as Ipipiri in the eastern Bay of Islands. These islands are composed of a sequence of sedimentary rocks, mainly greywacke, sandstone and argillite with Bay of Islands greywackes being the oldest known rocks in the North Island. They offer a variety of habitats that, historically, would have provided sanctuary for an array of native species: tīeke (saddleback), hihi (stitchbird), pāteke (brown teal) and the oi (grey-faced petrel) to name a few.
The ingress of humans brought about the destruction of much of the native bush, eliminating the natural habitat in favour of open farmland. After many years of burning and farming, the native vegetation of these islands – broadleaf forests of rimu, kahikatea, miro, mataī and tōtara – were decimated, taking with it the magical birdsong. And with humans came mammalian pests such as rats and possum, mice and stoats. The native wildlife is not equipped to protect itself from such pests; these voracious predators would have dealt the final blow to the native species of Ipipiri, bringing silence to the islands.
Project Island Song is bringing the birdsong back to the islands, note by note. The restoration project currently underway seeks to re-establish a native ecosystem for us all to enjoy. After some years of pest control, intensive weeding and planting, the project has reached the point that native species can be reintroduced and expected to thrive. Twenty species of birds, reptiles, invertebrates and plants have been identified for reintroduction to help create a thriving native islands ecosystem.