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  • A change in birdsong was a tohu for mana whenua that something was not right in the Waitākere Ranges.

    Rights: Onco p53, CC BY 4.0

    Rāhui in the Waitākere Ranges

    A rāhui is a form of tapu that restricts the access of an area to protect it. Kauri dieback is spread via soil disturbance – via human feet/boots and equipment. Staying out of the kauri forests helps to remove the risks to healthy kauri trees.

    Kauri were māuiui. After waiting years for reports from external sources, it was estimated that nearly 25% of kauri were infected with kauri dieback. A rāhui was finally placed on the Waitākere Ranges to restore the mauri and slow the degradation caused by the disease. Rāhui is a traditional conservation tool used by Māori to slow the effects when something is amiss, giving kaipūtaiao and kairangahau time to find a cure.

    As keen observers of te taiao, iwi Māori have decades of mātauranga based on the information gauged in these observations. When interpreting the natural, normal patterns and behaviours of birds – as was seen in the Waitākere Ranges – experts knew when something wasn’t quite right.

    Kaitiaki and conservation

    Our tūpuna became expert kaitiaki and implemented multiple conservational tools to preserve and therefore ensure fresh, clean water sources and mahinga kai for future generations. Some of the tools used included:

    • harvesting, gathering or hunting only what was needed to feed or tend to the iwi
    • harvesting at certain times to allow for replenishing, maturing of a food source – including knowledge of the maramataka and understanding the seasons
    • placing rāhui to prohibit people from entering specific areas – for example, nesting locations
    • having specific spaces for cleaning and washing that were away from food collection and preparation
    • being respectful of all living and non-living things, as these were beneficial to survival, and showing this respect by following tikanga set out by the iwi.

    After land had been confiscated (raupatu) or lost in battles and was scarce, tūpuna had to learn more about planting crops as the main source of food production. Taking care of these food sources was similar to pre-colonial times. However, pest control was a new technology.

    As food sources became scarce because of land clearing, swamp draining and deforestation, iwi had to go about restoring the balance of the ecosystem by replanting where they could, transferring species and placing rāhui on those species.

    Rights: Public domain

    Soil ecosystems

    Oneone (soil) connects the living with the non-living. The soil supports an array of living things in the forest – from tiny fungi and mosses to giant kauri trees.

    In te ao Māori, oneone (soil) is a taonga that holds mana, spiritual energy or healing power as it is of Papatūānuku, the personification of Earth in Māori cosmology. The health of the soil, of Papatūānuku, is what creates resilience for entire ecosystems so foundational to successful establishment and long-term health of forests. Caring for our soil supports the forest and therefore the creatures that live there. All living and non-living things in this world are interconnected through whakapapa so one cannot exist as it should without the other.

    Actions to protect and restore

    There are many initiatives and strategies in place today to preserve and restore the natural habitats of the birdlife in Aotearoa. Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research has proudly led Te Tatauranga o ngā Manu Māra o Aotearoa | New Zealand Garden Bird Survey. This biodiversity study, which began in 2007, aims to inform and educate about the state of our garden birds and their environments.

    Rights: Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research

    Te Tatauranga o ngā Manu Māra o Aotearoa – The New Zealand Garden Bird Survey

    Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research runs an annual survey of garden birds. The data collected from citizen scientists helps researchers understand how birds are coping with environmental challenges

    He aha ināianei? What now?

    Te Tatauranga o ngā Manu Māra o Aotearoa | New Zealand Garden Bird Survey results provide regional information about the changes in abundance of bird species. Where do we start and what do we need to do to protect and encourage birdlife in our local environment?

    Lorraine Dixon uses a pictorial model termed Ake Ake – forever and ever to encourage iwi to share their views, including values. They are also encouraged to represent what they would like the future to look like. Students should be encouraged to do the same for their communities. Ko rātou ngā rangatira o āpōpō – students are the leaders of tomorrow and have a good grasp on what their future should and could look like. Our tamariki are curious, they are creative and, with support, can work together alongside experts to activate ideas and initiatives to restore natural environments for the birds to return!

    Here are some ways to encourage birds back into our places and spaces:

    There are additional activities in the slideshow below. Try them in your classroom!

    Rights: Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Helping our manu – Slideshow

    Find out about conservation efforts and what we can do to be kaitiaki.

    Please check the notes that accompany the slides. They contain activity instructions, prompting questions and teaching suggestions.

    Use the slideshow menu for further options, including view full screen, and go here for the download option.

    Te Tatauranga o ngā Manu Māra o Aotearoa

    This article is part of a suite of resources for kaiako and tauira to immerse themselves in learning, understanding and acknowledging the birdlife in our environment. Other resources include:

    Nature of science

    Supporting our learners to find connections to the environment is an important step in building agency and action competence. Taking action for the environment helps the ecosystem flourish and brings hope and wellbeing to our students who participate. These actions support multiple strands of the nature of science and key competencies.

    Related content

    Join the students of the Kids Restore the Kepler project as they work together to complete their mission: to bring birdsong back to the Kepler Track. This collection curates resources for your students to bring back the birdsong in your own local environment. You can copy the collection and customise it to suit your needs.

    Read more about the issues surrounding the conservation of some of our threatened bird species.

    Explore how an inquiry and action learning process can develop essential skills in finding information, developing cultural competency, examining different points of view, communicating with others and problem solving for environmental improvement.

    The articles Understanding kaitiakitanga and Waitī – freshwater environments include some key aspects and examples of kaitiakitanga.

    In the article Scientists using ‘fake news’ to stop predators killing endangered birds, discover an alternative innovative pest control method.

    Learn more about kauri dieback with these resources:

    Useful link

    In this Re: interview, find out how Māori are fighting to use traditional knowledge to save the kauri from extinction.


    This resource has been produced in collaboration with Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey.

    Rights: Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research

    Manaaki Whenua and New Zealand Garden Bird Survey

    Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research is a Crown research institute. Its core purpose is to drive innovation in the management of terrestrial biodiversity and land resources. One of the national projects it runs is the annual survey of garden birds Te Tatauranga o ngā Manu Māra o Aotearoa | New Zealand Garden Bird Survey. The data collected from citizen scientists helps researchers and practitioners understand how birds are coping with environmental challenges.

      Published 17 June 2024 Referencing Hub articles
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