New farm workers in Mahia!

Making a meal of dung – new farm workersA new breed of farm worker has been released in Māhia today, Dung beetles. These beetles are paid in dung, work 24/7, and improve farms and their environments.

The beetles were released at a community gathering on Pongaroa Station farm as part of several collaborative initiatives involving Dung Beetle Innovations, Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research, Whangawehi Catchment Management Group, and Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ). Further financial assistance has been provided by the Australian-based Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers project.

Farm Manager on Pongaroa Station, Bevan Parker, says the beetles are a great addition to the farming community.

“Dung beetles are just awesome, they’re everyone’s friend. They eat poo and by processing and burying it they improve soil quality, and reduce run-off and parasite transmission. Better soil, better water, better animal health and better ecosystems, it’s a win for everyone,” says Bevan.

“We’re excited to be releasing over 10,000 dung beetles in Māhia over the next couple of days, the largest number of beetles to be released in Aotearoa at one time. We’re spreading them round the farms that are part of the Whangawehi Catchment Management Group,” says Dr Simon Fowler, the Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research scientist in charge of the programme  

“Four types of dung beetle are being released because they’re active in different seasons and can cover each other when friends are napping. They act like miniature bulldozers by packing dung down tunnels they dig up to 60 cm directly under the dung pat. They lay their eggs in dung balls. They make the dung pats disappear faster and become blended into the soil profile,” says Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Hill Country Futures Programme Manager, Eleanor Linscott.  

“This release is part of a bigger project looking to future proofing the farming business, and community and environments. We’re looking at sustainable farming practices, and researching different ways of working to become more sustainable – like getting these little guys on the farms working for us,” says , WCMG Project Coordinator, Nicolas Caviale – Delzescaux.

Whangawehi Newsletter



Kia ora koutou,

I hope you are all well, ready to embrace the festive season and celebrate a year of intense work. I have attached our latest newsletter where you will find the main highlights of the past 6 months. It has been a very busy year and I want to thank you all for your continuous support.

On behalf of the WCMG group, I wish you all a Merry Christmas



Mahia farmers welcome Dung Beetles trial

Our community has been offered thousands of tiny new farm workers – they’ll work 24/7… and they are paid in dung!  We are talking about three species of dung beetles that have been introduced to New Zealand to improve our farm environments.  Large drums at an Auckland nursery are now teeming with beetles that are ready for release in New Zealand paddocks – and the Mahia farms have been selected for a first mass release trial if we want them. 

Dung beetles are everyone’s friends.  They mix sheep and cow manure into the soil.  Some are “tunnellers” that act like miniature bulldozers: they shove dung down tunnels that they have dug directly under the dung pat.  Others are “rollers”: they shape the dung into neat balls and roll them away from the pat to bury them. And there are “dwellers”: they live entirely within the dung pat.  Together they make the dung pats disappear faster and become blended into the soil profile. All the beetles feed on and lay their eggs on the dung.

If the beetles catch on and build to large enough numbers, they will:

  • Help soil to build up carbon
  • Create soil that can hold more water and nutrients
  • Increase pasture growth and animal production
  • Reduce run-off of nutrients, sediment and pathogens to help clean up the waterways
  • Reduce worm transmission between stock and reduce the need for drenching.

You can think of all the hard work we have done to plant along the Whangawehi streams as a final line of defence of the waterways; whereas dung beetles head off the problems at their source – in the paddocks themselves.  You can read a lot more about the beetles at https://dungbeetles.co.nz/

A lot of research and risk assessments by independent panels has concluded that dung beetles will be safe additions to our ecosystems.  They’ll stay in the paddocks, don’t eat or compete with other species already there, and probably will increase the number of our other best farm biodiversity friends – the earthworms.

Any dung beetle releases at Mahia would be a real team effort. If the farmers wants to go ahead, we would be looking for some volunteer farmers to host the first releases and to have traps set out in surrounding paddocks for two-week periods in each season.  Farmers would need to adjust grazing and drenching near the time of release to give the beetles a leg-up.  Manaaki Whenua (Landcare Research) are combining with Beef+Lamb’s Regenerating Hill Country project to release and monitor outcomes.  Even the Aussies will help – Meat & Livestock Australia would provide the beetles free of charge and our monitoring results would be combined with theirs from the other side of the ditch so a bigger picture emerges.  And the beetles themselves have been mass reared by the Dung Beetle Innovations team in Auckland.

We all want to see if the beetles take hold.  We’d also like to combine it with some school exercises and some publicity to show that the farmers and community are taking action to improve the whole catchment including soil and water quality. We will keep you posted

MoU between WCMG and Beef+Lamb New Zealand’s Regenerating Hill Country project

We have a new partner!  The WCMG have signed  a ‘Memorandum of Understanding ’ with Beef+Lamb New Zealand to work together to help future-proof farming, our land and our community.  This means that we will guide and host the Regenerating Hill Country research team at Mahia over the next four years.  Any research or trials of new tools will be approved and co-designed by us and them. We’ll help each other interpret the results and tell our story together.

The Regenerating Hill Country project team has a mix of ecologists, geographers, social researchers, agronomists and farming experts. The coalition wants to integrate the knowledge of farmers’ and kaitiaki with science and to get on with practical work. 

The researchers started in August by interviewing many of our farmers and kaitiaki about their long-term vision for Mahia and farming – thank you to all those who helped that first step. The next potential project is dung beetle releases in the coming summer and autumn.  Next year we hope to bring forward a peninsula strategy to co-ordinate gorse and other weed control campaigns.  Who knows where the coalition will go over the next three years – we’ll just get on with some joint work and hear what everyone living on the Peninsula want us to work on next. We won’t be able to realise all our dreams but we can give it a crack.    

The signing of the MOU was marked by presentation of a gift to our community from Beef+Lamb New Zealand – two traditional ‘pōhā’ of preserved tītī (muttonbirds).  The birds were harvested by the Rakiura whānau from Murihiku, some of whom are descendants of the Tākitimu waka that brought the Mahia iwi to Aotearoa. Rimarapa (bull kelp) is split and made into a bag – the muttonbirds are packed inside and the air squeezed out with fat so the birds stay fresh, for several years if need be. Totara bark is inserted to protect the kelp bag, traditional knots and a kete are woven to hold the pōhā together – how’s that for an ancient and natural form of vacuum packing!?  You can watch a video about making pōhā at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwVMlODvWNc and of course, when you are ready, there is a good feed or two of tītī to be eaten from the bags.  Mauri ora!