Fire safety campaign uses native birds to encourage caution

7:09 pm on 13 January 2020

A fire safety campaign designed to pull at the heartstrings appears to have struck a chord with New Zealanders.

Tūī sitting in a tree, native New Zealand bird captured in forest on Bluff Hill, South Island, New Zealand.

Photo: 123RF

Fire and Emergency's education campaign, launched last month, uses posters of kiwi, tūi and pīwakawaka labelled "highly flammable" to remind people that wild fires can destroy their habitat.

Fire and Emergency national advisor Pete Gallagher said the campaign was launched in December, and since then there's been a huge surge online in people checking conditions before lighting fires.

"Kiwis love native birds, so by picking on native birds as being our ambassadors for thinking about fire safety we believe we've hit a nerve with most New Zealanders," he said.

"But it really strikes deep to encourage them to change their behaviour, think about what the fire risk is, think about what potential harm can come to other creatures that we share this country with."

Gallagher said sixty-five percent of New Zealand's wildfires are caused by controlled burns or cooking and camping fires getting out of control.

He said the fact so much of Australia's natural habitat has just been destroyed by bushfires, wiping out about half a billion animals, probably helped increase awareness too.

Department of Conservation threatened species ambassador Erica Wilkinson said it's not just our birds that need protection but other native species too.

There are about 30,000 tuatara living in a nature sanctuary Stephens Island, in the Marlborough Sounds. She said a fire there could have a disastrous effect.

"Fire is such a significant risk to our native ecosystems and also the wildlife within them.

"What has taken thousands of years to evolve can just be wiped out in a few minutes by a fire and then unlike other threats like predators fire not only affects the immediate survival of the species, but it also destroys the habitat and the food sources and make survivors so much more vulnerable to predation.

"They can't get back into their burrow, they can't get back into their tree cavity, they're just stuck on the ground. They're essentially sitting ducks and are really vulnerable at times."

Wilkinson said in 2007, the Canterbury knobbled weevil - which had only recently been rediscovered - was almost wiped out when a fire tore through its reserve in Burkes Pass.

She said forest soil is drying out, so people need to be particularly careful in eastern parts of New Zealand where there's lots of grass and shrublands.

The scrub fire danger risk is currently set to extreme for the central and upper North Island and the east coast of the South Island, so its advised to check the fire risk before lighting up.

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