NZTA works to ensure wildlife protection while constructing Hamilton motorway
OPINION: Every time we talk to community groups about how we're protecting native wildlife or restoring gullies, they are always surprised – pleasantly surprised.
There seems to be a lingering public suspicion that large projects like ours only pay lip service to environmental issues.
But actually there is a real commitment to protecting wildlife and improving habitat. I would acknowledge the New Zealand Transport Agency for doing the right thing by the environment, and making sure that the project leaves it in a better state.
Bats are a good example of the work we're doing to protect our native species and also create new habitat to help them thrive.
Before we started building the Hamilton Section of the Waikato Expressway, we employed ecologists to find out more about longtail bats around Hamilton – where they live, what size and types of tree they typically roost in, and so on.
We've hung bat monitors in trees across the 22km length of our project, which proved that bats are more widely distributed around Hamilton than anyone realised.
Our research identified bat colonies no one knew about before, and has added considerably to the bat knowledge base.
We recognise that bats are at risk every time we cut down a tree to build a bridge, so we check every potential roosting tree for bats before we fell it.
In the gullies, we send arborists up the trees to visually check all potential roost sites – any holes or cavities behind the bark.
If that's not possible, our environmental staff spend two mornings and evenings using bat monitors and visual inspections to check for bat movements.
Bats are shy creatures and they are always changing their roost sites, so it's not surprising that, while our staff have encountered flying bats in the gullies, we haven't found any roosting bats so far.
If we do, we'll work through an agreed process with the Department of Conservation and Waikato Regional Council.
So the bottom line is that bats are protected when we remove trees to build our bridges. And longer term, we're planning to improve their habitat.
We will restore 20 hectares of gully habitat and plant 650,000 new plants along the project – mainly locally sourced native species.
That's good news for bats.
-Matt Fairweather is NZTA's project manager for the Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway.