As part of the Mt Cass Wind Farm’s ecological commitments, we are protecting two species of lizard that live within the construction footprint of the wind farm’s turbine and roading areas.
We have been working on a project with DoC, landowners and lizard experts to capture Waitaha geckos and Southern Grass Skinks from the construction areas and relocate them to a new pest-controlled habitat elsewhere on Mt Cass. The project is being carried out under a DoC Wildlife Act Authority which legally permits us to carry out the work using best-practice methods.
To minimise the impact of the project on the surrounding ecology, the Wind Farm and subsequent access roading have been designed to avoid significant wildlife and plant habitats.
The relocation project began in March 2021, when an expert team of herpetologists began identifying, capturing and releasing lizards to their new home. Over four days, the team visited the site day and night to search and salvage lizards by hand.
The team returned to the site to resume searching in mid-April 2021. This time, they were assisted by a specialised machinery operator in an Excavator to lift large rocks and boulders so that they could search for lizards underneath. The Excavator was also used to relocate the rocks within the footprint containing lizard habitat (i.e. the creviced limestone rock outcrops) to deter them from returning. During stage two, lizard monitoring was undertaken at the relocation sites to confirm that our efforts are working.
March/April is the perfect time to relocate the lizards with milder temperatures avoiding the heat of summer and before winter when the lizards seek shelter deep within the rocks.
To give the relocated lizards the chance to thrive in their new habitat, we’ve been carrying out pest management at the relocation sites and surrounds for over a year since March 2020. Pest management has significantly reduced the number of predators in the area, giving the lizards a better chance of survival.
Pictured: A Herpetologists works to locate lizards at Mt Cass.
In total, 107 lizards were relocated to a new habitat on Mt Cass, including 101 Waitaha geckos and six Southern Grass Skinks. No other species were detected.
The relatively low number of lizards salvaged compared with the forecast in the Wildlife Act Authority is largely due to the project’s commitments to minimise impacts to the surrounding environment. Through the design process, we’ve further refined the roading layout to avoid high lizard occupancy areas and diverting it away from other ecologically significant areas.
Wildlife monitoring at Mt Cass
To track the success of our pest management, we’ve been monitoring wildlife populations in the area. In late 2020, for the first time since our monitoring began, we identified lizard footprints in our tracking tunnels – indicating that our pest control efforts are working, and the lizard population is getting stronger.
If you want to follow our pest management progress, all our data is being publicly shared at www.trap.nz.
Pictured: Excavators assist with the lizard search and dismantle old habitats to deter lizards from returning.
About the Lizards
The Waitaha gecko is also known as the Canterbury gecko or brown gecko. They are commonly found in the Marlborough and Canterbury regions and are brown, olive green coloured with dark brown/black and pale stripes or blotch-like markings.
They can measure between 53mm – 80mm in length and have been known to live over 36 years.
Southern Grass Skinks
Southern Grass Skinks are only found in the South Island. They are small-bodied and grow up to 80mm in length. They are brown with black and pale stripes and/or speckles.
Sometimes mistaken as McCanns skinks, the Southern Grass Skink can live up to six years old.
Photos provided by RMA Ecology.