Our People. Field Team Leader at The Forest Bridge Trust – Michelle Worth

Michelle Worth is the Field Team Leader at the Forest Bridge Trust, working with local communities and coordinating the Trusts Community Liaison and Predator Control Teams to help protect native wildlife.

Michelle, how did The Forest Bridge Trust get started?

The Trust’s co-founders Kevin and Gill Adshead regenerated much of the forest on their farming property on the West Coast in Glorit. They started doing predatory control and in 2015 they introduced kiwi to their property. Once the kiwi were established Gill and Kevin started to broaden their outlook. The questions were raised, what if these kiwis thrive and start to travel? What do we need to do to protect them? That was the start of the Forest Bridge Trust, with a big dream to connect Tawharanui’s kiwi population with the kiwi population on the West Coast in Glorit.

The landscape that makes up this land bridge had small community groups doing some predator control but there were lots of gaps, so the Trust helps to fill those gaps, support and connect all the community groups working in the area.

There are a lot of private landowners throughout the Forest Bridge, how do you engage with local people and persuade them to support predator control on their land?

We have over 1800 landowners in the central bridge, and they are all very different, from the holiday homes and more suburban environments in Omaha to big lifestyle blocks and working farms.

Our Community Liaison Team are great at networking. They use their connection with one landowner to meet the neighbours at the surrounding properties. Then before you know it, they have built up a small hub of people who are interested in getting involved and who can connect and support each other.

Talking to people is the key to engagement, most people in the community are keen to see the birds come back but we must listen to landowners first and find out what it is that they want. In most cases, people want to give the kiwi a safe passage through their backyard, but some people are concerned about the predators in their gardens. They might initially want rid of the possums that come every night to eat their lemons. While we are dealing with their possum issue, we can open the conversation up to mustelid control and usually the landowners are then keen to get involved.

Offering local workshops is a great way to connect, workshops help us to build awareness, share knowledge and gain support. We can then develop a predator control plan for each local area, and everyone can learn together. We of course visit individual landowners and roll out traps for each property, but it’s good for us all to be able to see the bigger picture so that the traps can be used to maximum effect across a big collective section of land.

What are some of the challenges that The Forest Bridge Trust has faced over the past few years?

COVID-19 restrictions of course posed a big challenge for The Forest Bridge Trust. Our traditional way of communicating with local people would be to hold a workshop, show and teach people face to face about the tools and resources that are available. COVID-19 put a stop to that, and we had to engage other avenues of communication including social media, print media and electronic mailouts.

Why do people/landowners get involved with The Forest Bridge Trust?

Empathy and connection with people underpin all that we do. Our superpower as an organisation is the ability to adjust. It isn’t one size fits all, we don’t have a set prescribed framework for dealing with communities or how we roll out predator control traps. First, we talk to people and find out why they want to get involved with the Trust. They might be worried about a rats in their compost bin or that their chickens have been attacked by stoats, landowners don’t always approach us saying that they want to protect native birds. First, we deal with their initial concerns and then we can introduce them to conservation ideas around mustelid control and protecting native flora and fauna.

Tell us about your school programme and how the Trust works with local children.

We connect with local schools through The Forest Bridge Defenders programme. We’ve found if the kids are enthusiastic then parents are happy to learn too. After our school’s educator Liz has visited a school, we will often have parents asking about setting up a family trapline and working together as a school community. The kids want to get involved. Our local kids want to protect their patch, they are connecting to their natural environment, and they have the drive to look after it. It’s about the community protecting their assets. However, we have learned that kids need quick results to keep them interested, so we will put out rat and possum traps as well as mustelid traps. Waiting for a stoat or ferret can take weeks, it’s quicker to catch a rat than a mustelid, and while they are checking their rat traps, they are resetting the mustelid traps, so it’s a win-win. The kids love finding something in their traps, they aren’t squeamish about a dead rodent, they are genuinely interested, and we want to keep them enthused and motivated.

What can you tell us about the Tamahunga Trappers kiwi release project and how are The Forest Bridge Trust working with this community group.

One of the Trust’s big projects was to create a 7000 hectares buffer zone or halo around Mt Tamahunga. The Tamahunga Trappers have been working on predator control for over 10 years and they have permission from DOC and Ngāti Manuhiri to bring kiwi back to the maunga.

We were able to go out to the landowners in the halo zone and tell them that there was an opportunity to have kiwi in their backyards. Explain that it was likely that they would be able to hear kiwis calling from their gardens. However, these kiwi would need protection from mustelids, rats, and possums. We knew that stoats and ferrets were in this halo/buffer zone and that had to be dealt with. The local community got on board to help with predator control. Everyone wanted to see kiwi back in the area, everyone realized how special it was to have kiwi as a part of the local landscape. If we spot any threats on our trapping cameras, we know that we will have community support and that someone will respond and go out and ensure that the traps are set and managed properly. There is a lot of enthusiasm, participation and engagement around this project and The Forest Bridge Trust are thrilled to be involved.

What are some of the key milestones/goals that the Trust has achieved?

Getting the Tamahunga Trappers buffer zone set up while being under COVID-19 restrictions was a big achievement for the Trust. We also now have a buffer zone around Maitaia, Kevin and Gill’s large property out on the West Coast. Their kiwi are thriving, they are recording up to 5 calls per hour and they know that the kiwi are being heard right on the edge of the property boundary, so it was vital to establish a buffer zone there.

The Forest Bridge Trust and the community groups that we support now have 19000 hectares under mustelid control, this was a great achievement for us as we are right on target for meeting our goal of 54 000 hectares under mustelid control by 2025.

The biggest achievement for me personally as a team leader is our team. The people who work for The Forest Bridge Trust are inspiring. They are a passionate, respectful, and dedicated bunch with a deep connection to conservation and making a difference. It’s wonderful to be achieving great things with these people.

What do you envisage for this area in 5 – 10 years?

For me, it’s more what the area will sound like. I look forward to the day when I walk into the bush and hear bird songs all around me. I hope that we will start to capture more kiwis on our cameras and that more baby kiwi will survive into adulthood. But above all else, I think I will be most proud of the community that we will have created. Sharing our knowledge and seeing local people connect with a local conservation project and then go on to sustain and maintain the work with passion and enthusiasm is very special.

Michelle Worth The Forest Bridge Trust Field Team Leader
Interview by Erin Reilly Save the Kiwi
Transcript – Nikki Morgan