What we do

Farming in a way that allows biodiversity to thrive

Pōhatu in the past, as most of the peninsula before human arrival, would have been covered with ancient forest. Forest areas were cleared first by the Maori for kumara gardens and settlements, then later by the Europeans for farming sheep and cattle. Farming is still the main livelihood of the Helps family living in Pōhatu.

Grass on farms is non-native and would turn into long rank grass without sheep or cattle grazing it down. Rotational grazing is done in the penguin breeding areas, keeping grass shorter non intensively with sheep. Little Penguins can find their path home easily when the grass is shorter instead of trying to climb through a jungle of long rank grass.

Past experience has shown that leaving sheep out of the penguin areas was a big mistake as the grass becomes long rank and penguins left trails using the same path every night. It became obvious to Shireen and Francis that stoats, predators to penguins, were also using these penguin highways to pick birds off as they come up. With shorter grass penguins can see predators coming and have more access to move around the colony.

Grazing the grass, keeping it shorter, also helps to stop it from germinating and producing a lot of seeds (food for rats and mice). A lot of food for rats and mice will increase their population which will then increase the population of their predators such as mustelids (ferrets, weasels, stoats) This would not end well for the penguins. A survey study in 2004 in Pohatu shows areas with long rank grass had more signs of predation than areas lightly grazed by sheep.

Pōhatu/Flea bay farm is 1000 acres, with 40% dedicated by the Helps family to native forest regeneration and 60% used as productive grassland for sheep. There are 7 covenants (legally protected zones) on the farm, which hold legal protection in perpetuity.

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