A day of trekking up hills, hoeing thistles, battling blackberry, digging holes and planting native trees is formidable for most. For Ann Evans and a stalwart group of around fifty volunteers — the Whareroa Guardians — it’s Sunday business as usual, as they head onto the Farm Reserve near Paekakariki on the Kāpiti Coast for a morning of hard yakka, good conversation, and eventually a cuppa.
The impact the Guardians’ thirteen years of working bees have had on the landscape, which began as grassy, scrubby grazing land, is striking. A band of lush twelve-year-old growth runs down the left of property’s gravel drive. Swampy patches on the right are in various states of regeneration, thanks to successive years of plantings by volunteers and school groups. Breaking through to the hills, strips of planting line the Whareroa stream catchments. Exploring the reserve, one can duck under the mature native bush canopy of several remnants of original forest with kohekohe, mataī and kahikatea (and perhaps a friendly pīwakawaka) for a break from the sun.
The team have worked to restore Whareroa Farm Reserve since 2007, slowly restoring more and more of the 250 hectare retired section from grazing land. They estimate a colossal 60,000 plantings since the work’s beginnings, with another 1,500 from Trees That Count on the way for 2020. These trees will provide shelter up the side of the hill path, Ann explains, with enrichment plantings of podocarps and rewarewa to shoot up above the existing smaller growth.
It’s truly a community effort. The trees Whareroa has received from Trees That Count to date have been funded by 221 different individuals and groups. The volunteers that turn up each Wednesday — and indeed, at many other times of the week — put in countless hours in the “playground”, as Ann laughingly calls it. And the usage of this DOC governed land by the public for walking, running, cycling, horse riding, picnics, and one-off events such as the Urban Hut currently in place on the Farm for the Arts Festival, is not yet tracked, but is certainly in the thousands.
The restoration of the Farm is a testament to the power of each individual contributing what they can to a wider project. At every turn there’s evidence of someone’s particular skill or talent: a sign constructed, a carpet square cut to protect a new plant, the reduction of invasive blackberry, even an old caravan restored, with a mural, for smoko. All those working bees over the last 13 years means the Guardians are now well on the way to achieving their ultimate goal of restoring all waterways draining into the Whareroa Stream catchment with lush native tree growth.
One can’t help but wonder what the rationale is behind such endless, strenuous work. “So many reasons!” exclaims Ann. “It’s a hobby. It’s social. These are my friends, and they’re good people. It’s exercise - much better than going to the gym. And mostly, it’s contributing to the future. This is for my children, my grandchildren.”
NB: As Whareroa Farm Reserve is public land, the Guardians are currently unable to carry out work during the Government mandated Level Four lockdown. However, they'll be back out as soon as they're able!