Nature is our business (and what the people at Tahi Honey are doing about that)
June 21, 2016
The environment is our greatest asset. Functioning ecosystems and biodiversity are critical for our long term survival. Plants produce oxygen and reduce carbon dioxide, critical for climate control. They convert energy from the sun into compounds which are the basis of fossil fuels and food. Water is necessary to keep our bodies and the environment healthy and should be valued and protected as the precious resource it is. Many current extractive businesses, such as clear felling forests and not replacing them, unsustainable fishing, polluting waterways and mining damage the environment. If businesses continue this way (and we as consumers allow them to) we run the risk of ecosystem collapse.
There is an important relationship between people, business and the environment. The health and well-being of human society depends on a functioning environment. In turn, the business economy and the creation on wealth depends upon a functioning society. This reality underpins the approach the people at Tahi honey take to business. Plants make the nectar and pollen that nourish the bees and provide the raw materials which create Tahi honey. So Tahi believe that they have a responsibility to be caretakers of the ecosystems in which they operate.
Here are some of the incredible things Tahi are doing to protect our most precious asset:
Before Tahi became the caretakers of the reserve, the land was farm land, converted from native bush more than 100 years prior. Part of this bush to farm conversion had included draining of the wet areas and channelling the streams. In converting the land back from farm land to nature reserve, Tahi has reproduced 13 wetlands ranging in size from 20 square feet to up to 12 acre lakes. The lakes provide freshwater habitat for mullet and rare long-finned eels. The estuarine salt marsh has been restored and is now home to Fernbirds, Kingfishers and Banded rails. The wetlands now help recharge groundwater and have assisted in recent droughts.
Bringing back the birds
The consequence of all this wetland creation and restoration has been a large increase in the number of birds at Tahi. When Tahi first arrived on the land 14 bird species were identified, now over 69 bird species hang out at the sanctuary. This includes 23 rare and endangered species such as the Bittern, Pateke or brown teal (New Zealand's rarest duck), and the grey duck, as well as many other common species such as Fernbirds and Tuis. The beautiful bird label on the Tahi honey range, featuring the Kaka (our native parrot), the Tui, Kingfisher and Fantail, is a celebration of the return of bird song to the area. Birds are the top animals in New Zealand's native ecosystems so their return is an indicator of ecosystem health.
As well as restoring the wetlands, a similar sized area of land (about 75 acres) has been planted into native forest. Tahi plant between 20,000 and 30,000 seedlings a year with most of the seeds and cuttings coming from their existing native forest areas. Some of these plantings are manuka trees and other nectar producing shrubs which provide food for the birds and honey bees.
Re-establishing rare dune species and flowers
Tahi is home to a large population of regionally rare sand daphne which is a flower species in national decline. In conjunction with the New Zealand Dunes Trust and QEII Trust, Tahi is involved in an experimental restoration program, which is re-establishing naturally cohabiting dune species along the coast of Tahi. Hebe speciosa is an especially attractive, flowering rare shrub from Northland and Tahi have used it in selected plantings. Other rare natives, such as Kakabeak and a native hibiscus have been introduced into house gardens around Tahi.
The only native land mammals in New Zealand are two small bats. Prior to the arrival of people, New Zealand was a land of birds, large insects and lizards. All of these have been threatened since New Zealand became populated because of the introduction of a large number of mammalian pests; the worst include stoats, weasels, rats, feral cats, possums, feral pigs, goats and rabbits. Uncontrolled, these animals devastate the forest and eliminate the native animals. As a consequence, Tahi maintains an active pest control program that humanely keeps these animals under control. As well as pest animals, there is also a range of invasive plants that threaten the local ecosystems. Tahi controls the worst of these - pampas grass, moth plant and apple of Sodom (kapok tree/rubber plant) - together with a wide variety of agricultural weeds such as ragwort.
Balancing bees and other biodiversity
Honey bees are not native to New Zealand. From an ecological perspective, honey bees compete with birds and native insects, such as native solitary bees, for nectar and pollen. To ensure we do not exploit the natural ecosystem and reduce nectar availability for our native birds and insects, we have substantially increased the numbers of nectar-producing shrubs and trees.
Additionally, because birds such as honey eaters have much longer tongues than bees, they have access to nectar that bees cannot reach. As a guide, we place one hive for every 10 acres of forest or scrub to ensure birds have sufficient food resources. Our observations also confirm that native bees continue to thrive at Tahi and we provide new nesting sites for native bees.
Bee the change
If you would like to visit Tahi Estate in Northland, New Zealand, they have a guest house on the sanctuary and a café on site which is popular with local residents and holiday makers (my kids highly recommend their specialty Tahi Manuka Honey icecream). Tahi also welcomes visitors to their annual Open Day which is usually over Easter weekend each year.
Tahi is an accredited Global Ecosphere Retreat® with the Zeitz Foundation Long Run Alliance. They have been recognized in 2011 by New Zealand's Sustainable Business Network and have also won the Small to Medium Sustainable Business Award with the Sustainable Business Network (in 2011).
Tahi’s beautiful honey range is available here in the USA: gourmet table honey and UMF certified manuka honey. The love, respect and care which they give the bees and their environment, is carried through to the love and care they give their honey. Sugar syrup, insecticides and medicines are never introduced into the hives. The bees live as nature intended and hive health is maintained through natural and organic methods. Sustainably sourced and bottled at site, all of the Tahi range is unfiltered and unpasteurized. Best of all, profits from every jar help fund these important environmental efforts because nature, is everyone’s business.
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