Despite the challenges of Covid-19, members and guests at the annual general meeting of Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society heard how there were some benefits for the environment and how well the group had adapted.

The AGM was held earlier this month, with the usual great turnout of committee members and volunteers as well as guest speakers.

Opening the evening was Professor Bruce Clarkson, who spoke about the challenges presented by the Covid-19 lockdown to conservation efforts and emphasising the need to prioritise our whenua now more than ever.

After seeing the positive effects lockdown has had on nature and the environment, he urged us all to be more mindful of our actions, lest we revert back to our destructive habits.

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Pirongia kōkako chick.
Pirongia kōkako chick.

Society chair Clare St Pierre, highlighted the year for the group in her annual report.  The main key points were:

* The challenges posed by Covid-19 lockdown and having to adapt quickly and explore online options for meetings and engaging with volunteers, including a successful photographic competition;

* The group is now in their 14th year of annual pest control using bait stations across 1030ha of the maunga targeting rats and possums. Mustelid trapping has also begun on the thanks to the hard work of Richard Still, Greg Hill, Brian Bowell, Tom Davies and their teams;

* This season saw only single nesting attempts by four breeding kokako pairs which was probably due to the drought conditions over summer and autumn.100 per cent of nests fledged chicks successfully, adding seven chicks to our population;

* They had the largest volunteer numbers ever this year for bait station filling at Okahukura, allowing the entire 1000ha bait station grid to be serviced in one day. Their efforts have seen rat indices reduce from 38 per cent to 9 per cent this season;

* They employed their first staff member and welcomed to the team Gemma Fernihough as operations co-ordinator, thanks to funding from Waikato Regional Council and Trust Waikato:

* Selwyn June was presented with life membership and a special function was held to thank him for his outstanding contribution to the society over the years;

* Upgrading of their Envirocentre building in Pirongia Village made good progress with
the completion of toilets, interior painting, installation of new carpet. The roof is currently being prepared for painting thanks to Frontier Scaffolding;

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* They have 207 members, and 350 registered volunteers. 82ha of pest control are sponsored in total. Volunteer hours came to 9307 this year involving about 110 people representing an 11 per cent increase on last year's hours.

Last year's committee was re-elected and new committee members Andy Bryant and Brian Bowell were welcomed to the team.

Ecologists Dave Bryden and Amanda Rogers banding a kōkako chick hatched on Mt Pirongia.
Ecologists Dave Bryden and Amanda Rogers banding a kōkako chick hatched on Mt Pirongia.

Following the chair's report and election proceedings, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research post-doctural researcher Anne Schlesselmann and colleague Neil Fitzgerald presented about their team's "More Birds in the Bush" research on Mt Pirongia.

Their research aims to model a range of forest variables (eg. temperature, altitude, fruiting phenology) against ship rat and possum population in order to predict population responses of a number of native birds including miromiro (tomtit), titipounamu (rifleman) and korimako (bellbird).

Neil Fitzgerald covered his tomtit dispersal study and invited landowners near the maunga with bush fragments to contact him so he could check whether tomtits were present there.

The evening concluded with a shared supper and some well overdue catch-ups with friends.

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To volunteer or find out more about Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society contact Clare St Pierre, 027 324 8195 or clare.stpierre@gmail.com