Biodiversity & Conservation Stories

Landscape-scale Restoration
“Hunua Forest Restoration”

Policy, Advice & Strategy


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The majority of Auckland’s water supply is sourced from reservoirs in the 17,500 ha Hūnua Ranges - Auckland’s largest mainland tract of regenerating and mature indigenous forest.  Within the Hūnua Ranges there is approximately 2,200 hectares of exotic forest that is managed for timber production under forestry right.

Sedimentation of the reservoirs has resulted in concerns about this commercial forestry activity within the Hūnua Ranges that is adjacent the reservoirs. Watercare Services Ltd is therefore seeking to manage the future risk of water contamination from agrichemicals or sedimentation.

The project objective is to revert all exotic forest areas into a stable and ecologically appropriate land cover, thereby removing the contamination risks associated with commercial forest activities. Reversion to indigenous forest is the most ecologically appropriate outcome for the project because, over the long-term, it is stable, requires little management, and provides clean water yield. The reversion to New Zealand indigenous forest is also a socially and environmentally desirable option, appreciated by the majority of the Auckland community.

In order to develop an agreed operational programme matching the needs of Watercare and Auckland Council, Margules Groome Ltd and Ahika Consulting Ltd were engaged to explore the options for reverting the land. The first step of the process has culminated in the production of an Issues and Options report. This report addressed some of the key technical and operational aspects of the project, and made recommendations about future management options.  It evaluated the advantages and disadvantages of different management pathways, including evaluating financial, social and environmental considerations.  

The purpose of this report was to support decision-makers in their selection of management options for the site.  The methods will in due course be refined and a detailed current- and future-costed management plan will be drawn up.  This water quality project in the Hūnua Ranges is likely the largest revegetation project involving a transition from planted forestry to indigenous forest undertaken in New Zealand, and Ahika is proud to be playing such a key role in this.

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Park Street Planting Plan

Design & planning
Completed 2015


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Restoring indigenous biodiversity where we live and work provides habitat for unique New Zealand flora and fauna, and helps build a living landscape to incorporate nature into our everyday lives.

Ahika worked with a rural business owner to develop a planting plan for his large earthworks machinery storage yard. A local special, our planting plan incorporated a wide variety of natives endemic to East Otago, each occupying a different microclimate in this often drought-prone area. Screening the yard also proved important, as it provided an attractive outlook for visitors and passers-by.

The Halo Project

Project Management
2014 - current


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Our health, wellbeing, lifestyles and economy are all dependent on a healthy natural environment. 

The Halo Project (previously called Beyond Orokonui) is a Landscape Connections Trust project, managed by Rhys. It is aiming to enhance the environment of Dunedin’s North Coast and its neighbouring inland environs to ensure it sustains both the people and wildlife of this place.

The project area stretches from North East Valley to Waikouaiti, and we’re bringing together groups and individuals who have a stake in this distinctive area. The Trust believes that positive, sustained environmental change relies on ownership and implementation by the local community. This approach has been embedded in the strategic direction and organisational framework of The Halo Project.

Participatory and community-led, this project sees a Community Advisory Group of diverse membership lead the dialogue and provide direction, while the Trust provides a support structure for action on shared ambitions. By integrating multiple stakeholder objectives within the project area, we can prioritise projects in accordance with community aspirations and evidence-based ecological priorities.

As the Halo Project’s Project Manager, Rhys leads project planning and management. A Purakaunui local, Rhys is highly committed to enhancing this area where he lives with his family.

The Halo Project website provides more detail about this project and the Landscape Connections Trust www.haloproject.org.nz

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Tomahawk School
Coastal Hazard Assessment

Research & Analysis
Completed 2014


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When it comes to climate change, it’s work, work, work at Ahika. We work hard to help our Council work more effectively, which ultimately works for all of our communities.

The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) advise that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal”. For New Zealand, this will mean increased temperatures, heavier rainfall in Otago, more extreme storm events, stronger westerly winds and rising sea levels (Ministry for the Environment, 2008).

These predictions have significant bearing on coastal communities, as climate change will have an effect on the drivers of coastal hazards such as tides, storms, waves, swell and sediment supply.  Climate change will exacerbate existing coastal hazards, increasing erosion and coastal inundation, causing higher storm surge flooding and the landward intrusion of sea water, changing water quality and worsening drainage problems in low lying areas (Ministry for the Environment, 2008).

Planned adaptation to these threats is under way at the Dunedin City Council (DCC).  Ahika Consulting was approached by DCC to complete an assessment of the former Tomahawk School site to identify:

  1. The areas which are essential to retain and manage for coastal protection;
  2. Any areas which are not essential to retain but would be advisable to retain and monitor for reassessment against predictions for climate change or other environmental factors;
  3. Any areas which are unlikely to have any coastal protection relevance and can be assessed for the use/development for other purposes.

This assessment will be used to inform future decisions for the DCC about the use of this land in a changing climate.


FSC Group Certification

Operational Management & implementation
2013 - current


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Complex specifications and requirements.  
High financial cost of obtaining certification.  
Jargon-filled legalistic speak.  
Intricate principles and criteria.  

Doesn’t sound like your cup of tea?

At Ahika, we look after the small peeps too.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) recognises its certification process as foreboding and off-putting for small operators.  We work as part of the team changing the FSC certification process by developing user-friendly guidelines and standards. A part of this is an online spatially based land management planning system, which allows small forest owners to input data and management decisions about their farms, forests and conservation areas.  

Guiding users through the needs of FSC certification, this system delivers a certifiable management plan that helps small-scale producers demonstrate the quality of their practice, which in turn allows consumers to support sustainable forestry.

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Otago Peninsula Biodiversity Group's
Strategic Plan 2013-18

Policy, Advice & Strategy
Completed 2013


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A project that engages with local communities to enhance native biodiversity? At Ahika, that’s our bread and butter.  

Not to be mistaken for New Zealand's first private charitable trust (the Otago Peninsula Trust,  registered in 1967), the Otago Peninsula Biodiversity Group (OPBG) started in 2008 as an informal group of Peninsula landowners before registering as a Charitable Trust in 2010.  Their primary goal is to remove animal pests on the Otago Peninsula (9,500 ha) to protect the area’s biodiversity, lifestyle, and economic values.

We helped OPBG develop a 5-year strategic direction, providing a roadmap for project and organisational growth between 2013-2018.  Using consultation and workshop techniques, Ahika helped identify the mission, vision, core operating values and assumptions that underpin the Group’s approach to pest removal. With this strategic plan in place, OPBG trustees, staff and contractors can continually review their progress against the stated objectives of the strategic plan.


Waikouaiti Domain Reserve

Operational Management & Implementation
Completed 2012


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Our work aims to reflect the aspirations of the community and key stakeholders in the community. 

Want a controversial subject? Try the Waikouaiti Domain and Spit Forest Redesign. The many differing opinions about the role of pine trees (Pinus radiata) in a local landscape meant the local Council proposal to fell a forest of them needed substantial consultation.

We worked with Waikouaiti residents to build a picture of these differing perspectives, and contextualised them within a strong health and safety framework and a need to achieve a cost-neutral outcome. To cut a long story short, we created a detailed plan for the redesign of the reserve which captured most (but not all) of the community’s values.  

The pines were removed and while some commercial exotics were re-planted, we chose mostly native plants to both restore indigenous biodiversity and protect the dunes.

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Glendhu Station

Design & planning
Completed 2012


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At Ahika, we help progressive farmers make positive changes to their farming practices.

Glendhu Station is a typical New Zealand sheep and beef farm that’s seen multiple generations of families make their livelihoods from the land.  But John McRae and his family wanted to do it better.

While traditional farming practices like burning, oversowing and broadcast fertilisation might result in high productivity, they also result in high environmental and economic costs. In collaboration with Lisa Johnston, Ahika worked closely with the McRae family to facilitate a transition away from these damaging practices.  

Today, John is farming organically, improving the quality of the soil, and reducing his herd of hard hoofed livestock. In order to maintain farm cashflow, egg producing chickens were introduced into the farming system. The co-benefits of keeping chooks were a reduction in hard-hoofed animal impacts on soil structure and water systems, and the contribution of valuable nutrients to the soil.

Biodiversity Credits

Research & Analysis
Completed 2011


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Working to explore how to achieve net gains in biodiversity.

This project was funded by the Department of Conservation (DOC) in order to understand a business model for biodiversity credits generated by conservation activities.  DOC contracted our friends at Wildland Consultants, who in turn asked us to work with them on evaluating whether biodiversity credits could provide small conservation NGOs with positive opportunities.  The Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust (YEPT) was the case-study conservation group.

The YEPT is based in Dunedin and manages conservation activities along the coasts of Otago and Southland.    They are “committed to creating natural environments where threatened yellow-eyed penguins can thrive”.  Through this vision YEPT has also undertaken significant amounts of indigenous vegetation restoration in coastal habitats that include sand dunes, coastal hills and the riparian margins of estuaries and coastal streams.  

Like the majority of community trusts they are mainly dependent on public funds.  The idea of biodiversity credits is a way for the Trust to become more self-sufficient.  However, trading in an offset market would represent a significant departure from the Trust’s traditional operating practice, requiring direct engagement with industries that have typically been considered environmental adversaries.  This project provided four examples of potential avenues to progress the idea, as well as evaluating the risks of each and particularly whether the Trust's values could be maintained.

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Bells Island
Forest Management Plan

Design & planning
Completed 2011


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At Ahika, we think local community involvement is vital to developing integrated forest management options that deliver both ecological restoration and recreational benefits.

Located near Nelson, Bells Island is known more for its sewage treatment plant than its recreational opportunities. In the face of its whiffy reputation, Nelson City Council puts the island to use as a forestry plantation. But when a 15-hectare block was harvested in 2010, the Council saw an opportunity to redefine the Island’s image.

It wasn’t just the Council that wanted to give the Island a makeover. The local community has big plans to restore the Waimea estuary, and Bells Island has a pivotal role to play. Through predator proofing the estuary edge and wetlands next to the Island, the community hopes to create a better habitat for native birds.

Ahika worked closely with Council staff and the community to produce a report outlining the opportunities and constraints of the site. The report considers options for an alternative forest management model incorporating diverse exotic timber crops species, explores the potential to incorporate indigenous timber crop species, and focuses closely on ecological restoration.


Hereweka Management Plan

Policy, Advice & Strategy
Completed 2011


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Ahika worked hard to ensure the ecological, recreation, cultural and heritage values of Hereweka (also known as Harbour Cone) that are important to Dunedin people (especially those living within close proximity) were captured in the Management Plan.  

Hereweka (also known as Harbour Cone) is a beloved Dunedin icon. Ahika helped create a Management Plan to protect the ecological, recreation, cultural and heritage values of this special place. We engaged with local communities through symposiums and planning workshops to tease out the different ways Hereweka matters to Dunedin people.  

Alongside Jackie Fanning (L&R New Zealand Ltd), Kelvin Lloyd (Wildland Consultants Ltd) and Mike Moore (Landscape Architect), we distilled these perspectives into a Management Plan that strategically integrates multiple objectives the community has for the Hereweka property.

The Plan has a 50-year vision and a ten-year work programme, and will act as the guiding document for all stakeholders involved in the use of this property.  It seeks to enhance existing indigenous vegetation, restore habitats, manage rare and threatened species, control weeds and pest animals, protect archaeological sites and cultural values for Kai Tahu, promote commercial use, and encourage recreational use through signage and interpretation.

To learn more about the community engagement side of this project visit our Community Engagement stories page.

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Wilding Pines Assessment

Policy, Advice & Strategy
Completed 2011


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At Ahika, we believe protecting cherished landscapes is a community’s right.

Maungatua is a prominent ridge in Dunedin City, valued by residents for its biodiversity and landscape values.  In 2014, the illegal establishment of a large plantation forest threatened this significant landscape.  

The Dunedin City Council commissioned Ahika to evaluate the potential impacts of wilding pines on the ecological values of surrounding properties, determine the risk of wilding spread, and explore management methods to eliminate any potential of wilding spread. With full knowledge of their destructive potential, we designed a work program to achieve the desired outcome: the removal of all planted conifers.

Our advice resulted in a court-mandated removal of all conifer trees, a successful prosecution against the landowner, and the maintenance of landscape and biodiversity values that are cherished by the Dunedin community.


Rural & Rural Residential
Character Assessments

Research & Analysis
Completed 2010


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Providing independent and comprehensive assessments as the basis for Council's to develop informed and pragmatic policy.

In 2009 the Dunedin City Council commissioned Rhys (as Forest Environments Limited) to develop character descriptions for all of the Rural environment zones within the District Plan to achieve an integrated approach to manage the rural environment of the City.  The character descriptions incorporate elements such as:

  • Land form

  • Land cover

  • Current and historical trends of human use

  • Human interaction with the area

  • Physical limitations of the area

  • Values of the area, including heritage values and ecological values

  • Threats

  • Opportunities to promote and protect the character of the area

Following on from the success of the rural character assessment, in 2010, Rhys was once again commissioned by the Council to develop character descriptions based on the Rural Residential environment zones.

The benefit of having character area descriptions for both the rural and the rural residential zones enables the development of Local Council rules that directly relate to the outcomes being sought by each as opposed to grouping them all together.  This approach reflects the desire from Council to be more place-focussed within the second generation District Plan, recognising a finer grain of detail for areas within the city.