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

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 and of course, when you are ready, there is a good feed or two of tītī to be eaten from the bags.  Mauri ora!

New QEII covenants on Pongaroa Station

From Malcolm Rutherford, QEII rep for the District :

It’s always interesting doing the first monitoring visit on a new registered covenant.  The fences are up, and the stock is out, and the next job for me as the local QEII rep is to set up some photo points. I pick a range of spots where we will see change over time. Around the edges where there is plenty of light there is a very rapid response and within a year there is a noticeable improvement in the condition of the vegetation.  In contrast, on soils that have been compacted by cattle, and in areas that are a bit darker it can take much longer with some species not coming back for a few decades if at all. At Pongaroa there are small seedlings coming up already, so hopefully they can get a good start and start to form the understory, and the next generation of canopy trees.
The two new covenant blocks at Pongaroa Station keep stock out of 2.5 km of stream in the Whangawehi and Wainui catchments. There is also a major revegetation program planned.
One treat of carrying out a monitoring visit is finding interesting species On this visit I came across an epiphytic orchid called Drymoanthus adversus. It isn’t much to look at and can be hard to spot, but if you get close enough at this time of year you’ll see it has quite stunning flowers – you’ll need a magnifying glass to have a good look though as they are tiny.

AGM held – A year to be proud of

The WCMG Annual General Meeting was held on Saturday 2nd November 2019 with the usual committee volunteers in attendance.  The Chairman highlighted the main events that took place over the year.  The main key points were:

  • 15 ha retired in Mangatupae
  • 16,000 trees planted, including 4 ha of native bush retired.  We also retired 2 ha wetland and established 6,000 trees during a well-attended community planting day with over 50 participants.
  • 15 ha retired on Pongaroa Station including 5 ha of native bush and the creation of a new wetland.
  • We were one of the finalists in the International River Award.
  • The development of an Easement for the Walkway which will be finalised in January 2020.
  • Formalization of a partnership for a research project led by Beef & Lamb based around regenerative farming.

A year to be proud of – looking forward to another productive year ahead

During the meeting the committee unveiled the cabinet designed and built by Chris Wilson.  It is planned that the cabinet will be based at Mahia and house our awards and trophies.  The cabinet (waka) will be displayed at various agencies over a period of time to showcase what our groups’ collaborative efforts can achieve.

Last year’s committee was re-elected and we look forward to the coming year’s projects and milestones.