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With a little help from my friends

Friends of Rangikapiti Pa are a volunteer group committed to the restoration of biodiversity within a 33ha coastal forest between Mangonui and Coopers Beach in the far north of New Zealand. Their work encompasses tree planting, trapping, environmental education and track improvement. We chatted with John Haines about their recent success stories — a testament to the incredible amount that a group of volunteers can achieve.

How has drought affected your plantings?

Despite the record drought, we have experienced an excellent survival rate. I put this down to how we go the extra mile using fertiliser tabs, compost and mulch. I would like to make better use of water-retaining crystals in the 2020 planting, especially with drought sensitive plants such as taraire and kauri. Two of our kauri have been kept alive with drips from my water bottle on a couple occasions in the height of the drought.

We also wouldn’t have gotten by without voluntary community support. When things got desperately dry a neighbour, Paul, kindly offered water from his bore. One evening, five volunteers joined Paul and his thousand litre tank and gravity fed water to an area of planting accessible by road. I’m sure that one gesture saved many plants.

How do your volunteers help native trees and plants to thrive?

Weed management is a big part of our work. Two volunteers, John and Coralene, would ordinarily be out exploring the hinterlands of Northland with the Wednesday Walkers tramping group. During lockdown, tramping and car-sharing was a no-go, so Coralene and John dedicated each Wednesday morning to weeding and releasing plants put in the ground in 2018 and 2019 in the open, windy saddle area beyond the Rangikapiti Pa. They were excited to find plants thought to be dead that were simply completely obscured by tall weeds and grasses. This year the plan is to continue up the hill and extend that planting area.

Volunteer Charles has been spot spraying any surviving kikuyu grass in the area mentioned above that will be planted during working bees soon. Charles is a spray wizard and wanders the reserve releasing newly planted trees on a regular basis. He recently dealt to grasses and weeds in an area on the side of the pa road planted by Mangonui School children in 2019.

Are pests an issue at the reserve?

Yes, but thankfully volunteer Ian was recently successful in securing funding from Foundation North to the tune of around $10,000. That money has meant that the entire perimeter of the reserve has trapping stations at 50 metre spacings. Ian and Brett, Dave and Glen all have trap lines and are helped during school terms by children from Mangonui School.

The results are already evident, and are helped by the efforts of volunteer Bob, who traps on his property which borders the reserve. Seedlings of mature rewarewa are popping up now: these were never seen in the past when pests freely roamed the reserve.

We also work on pest tree species. Before the lockdown Brett and Ian made monumental efforts to cut down a grove of wattle with trunks up to 120mm in diameter on a very steep bank beside the loop track. This has opened up outstanding views and created an opportunity for light-happy trees (kōwhai and the like) to be planted. The plan is to use the cut trunks on contours. They will be held in place by the remaining stumps and will help to catch leaf fall and water, thereby assisting the trees we intend to plant soon. 

How has the work of volunteers benefitted your community?

So many ways! Recently, we’ve made an application to Te Hiku Community Board for funding to have robust steps built to DOC standards on the loop track. With all the improvements volunteers have made to this track over last four years—rerouting around steep sections, benching, cutting steps and spreading gravel—the use of this track has exploded. The steps will make the track safe to use for many more people in the community.

We also seem to have a mystery volunteer, who has been planting and possibly watering good sized natives (pūriri, rimu, tōtara, miro, kōwhai and even a rātā on a support frame) down by the reserve’s only running stream. I would like to find out who is doing this and thank them. This year, for the first time anyone can remember, that stream ran dry. Still, one of two pukatea planted on the streamside has survived. More will be planted this year, plus nīkau and others.

What’s in store for the Friends of Rangikapiti over planting season?

Our first lot of 600 trees from Kerikeri Plant Production were delivered in late May, so Ian and John have put together a plan of action for the winter planting season. Trees That Count is supporting us to the tune of 1200 plants and we will be supplementing these with flax, astelia and rengarenga lilies. All up, we intend to put 1500 plants in the ground this year.