There has been quite a movement in recent times for businesses to be ‘green.’ However, I learnt the other day that since the free trade agreement with China, some New Zealand fish is now shipped there for processing, then shipped thousands of kilometres back to New Zealand for us to buy. What about the environmental ‘footprint’ left by all this burning of fuel? Put simply, it’s cheaper to process the fish in China and an ‘off green’ business is better than one in the red. Obviously, money is a significant factor that businesses have to take into account when they consider taking environmentally friendly actions. Are consumers choosy enough to give environmentally friendly businesses a marketing advantage? I suspect saving the environment is most effective when win – win situations are found. This is why I like the Falcons for grapes project that our family’s vineyard is involved with. It is described as “a commercial farm activity that will also symbiotically benefit falcon conservation.” The project is funded partly through MAF’s Sustainable Farming Fund, partly by a private business – International Wildlife Consultants Ltd and by the Wine Growers’ Association.
Having falcons in grapes benefits vineyard owners because falcons are a natural predator of smaller birds and therefore scare them off. Currently grape growers use a range of methods to try and reduce the amount of fruit eaten by these small birds – including loud bird bangers (neighbours love this early in the morning) and chopping down trees to destroy their habitat (and no doubt that of many other organisms). But you can’t blame the viticulturalists for taking action when they’ve spent bucket loads on growing the grapes and it is estimated that nationwide around 70 million dollars worth of fruit are gobbled before they can make it into the wine bottle! The problem is that our endemic falcons haven’t bred on the Wairau plains for years and they are now rarer than Kiwi. So, the Falcons for Grapes plan emerged with 3 key goals: to monitor the numbers of falcons, to breed more falcons and to reduce the bird damage to grapes. Win – win – win
My parents were approached a couple of years ago by Colin Wynn who manages the project. He explained that our family vineyard (Stembridge) was ideal as it has retained pockets of large trees suitable for the falcons. Now they have become a part of daily life with Dad feeding the falcons each evening and Colin and his team popping in regularly to check on progress and track the birds.
The shot on the top is of the freezer in the tractor shed. These frozen chicks are fed to the falcons daily. They will actually swoop down and take them from your hand or alternatively can be left on feeding trays. By providing food and shelter (in the form of mussel floats in the pine trees) the birds are encouraged to stay around.
Dad has noticed that lately the pair of falcons have been acting strangely as they usually hang around and take a few chicks to eat but in recent days they have been taking one then quickly leaving. Hopefully this is a sign they are nesting. We are a bit nervous though as falcons nest on the ground – they evolved without the threat of introduced hedgehogs, stoats, rats, cats and the like to eat the eggs. Last year we had a pair of falcons here that did eventually breed, but their eggs were sneaked away from danger and incubated. Fake eggs were put in their place to keep the falcons happy, then when they were ready to hatch they put them back with the fantastic result of three baby falcons. It is pretty exciting that for the first time in 150 years, falcons were breeding on the Wairau plains! Hedgehogs sadly took care of two of the offspring but there was one surviving female. This one was named Marita – my mum’s name. Marita was raised by the breeding pair and was soon flying around the vines, scaring birds! When she got a bit older the parent falcons scared her away, letting her know it was time for her to be independent. She was fitted with a transponder to keep track of her whereabouts, but sadly she went missing and the transponder was found out at the Wairau Diversion - in the river. Colin thinks she is probably dead as many of the project falcons are lost through being shot (unfortunately people are unaware of their protected status or confuse them with the larger Australasian Harrier) or being electrocuted by transformers. Mum of course isn’t having a bar of this and still holds out hope that her namesake will re-appear. And we are all hoping that more baby falcons are bred this year and that they survive to in turn breed!