Three Takeaways from Chatting with Native Animal Expert Danielle Shanahan


This week, podcast host Tim Dangen sat down with native animal expert Danielle Shanahan. Danielle is the CEO of Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne, an eco-sanctuary in Wellington, “Full of wildlife, native birds, native insects and native animals.” You might have heard of or even visited Zealandia, but what many people don’t know is that it used to be entirely farmland! And so Danielle has lots of experience with how to make room for native animals in a farming landscape.

Danielle Shanahan, CEO of Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne and native animal expert

Danielle explained why making room for native animals is so important: “It's the species that were here 1000 years ago, 500 years ago, that we've pushed to the brink of extinction often. So the native plants, the native animals, the native insects, the native fish, they live on farms, and they live in forests, they live in cities increasingly, as well. They give us a bit of a sense of identity in Aotearoa New Zealand. And as a nation we've decided to care for and promote [them] across our landscapes.”

Our first takeaway from the chat with Danielle is that you should get an idea of which native animals are visiting or living on your farm. You might already have a good instinct of which species are there, but you can confirm that by starting to keep an eye or ear out for different animals. “For example, a five minute bird count, which is where you just stand in one place for five minutes and record all of the birds that you see and hear. The key is that you don't do five minutes, one year and four minutes the next and so forth, you've got to keep it consistent,” says Danielle. She recommends making a list of animals you’ve noticed around the farm and updating that list consistently over time. You can also reach out to your local council or catchment group for more information about what species are in your area. 

Another takeaway is that you don’t need a lot of room to provide habitat for smaller creatures like lizards or insects, in fact you might just need a messy space for them to thrive. Danielle says, “Not always keeping things perfectly tidy is a really good place to start in terms of promoting biodiversity across our landscapes.” For example, putting out rock or log piles on your farm will attract native lizards. Making other changes like planting a diversity of flowering plants, doing some riparian planting, and engaging in predator control can make a huge difference for insects and birds.

Our final takeaway from talking with Danielle is that taking small actions to make space for native animals will have a cascading effect on the larger ecosystem. For example, Danielle says “If you can enhance water quality, reduce runoff into the waterways, plant trees around the waterways, all of those things have cascading effects, of course, onto fish [numbers] and the freshwater life that you'll have present." Plus working together with your neighbours to make these changes will multiply your impact across the landscape and everyone will share the benefits of improving biodiversity like increased pollination. “So I think, starting somewhere, sharing your knowledge as you learn and drawing on those people around you is absolutely crucial," says Danielle.

To hear more from Danielle, listen to the full podcast episode here: You can also find the Our Farms, Our Future podcast on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts, and be sure to subscribe to see when new episodes are released! And to learn more about Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Linkedin.

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