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Waiheke transformed through native planting

Waiheke Island is usually top of mind as a holiday destination, but it’s also an environmental hotspot: many people choose to live on the island to connect with nature, lend volunteer support to environmental projects, and lead simpler lives. We chatted with Forest and Bird’s Lincoln Jackson, who lives and works on Waiheke, about the Hauraki Islands group’s transformative work.

The 57ha Onetangi reserve and 17ha He Atawhai Whenua are both situated on retired farmland, as is much of the island. Hauraki Islands Forest and Bird owns and has been working to restore both reserves for decades: this year, with the support of 2000 native trees from Trees That Count. 

He Atawhai Whenua is visible from the passenger ferry en route to the Waiheke Wharf —passengers will have been treated to watching the landscape change since 1993, when the reserve was gifted to Forest and Bird. The project was originally driven by the vision of the late Don Chapple, who was often spotted cycling between his home and the reserve with trees he had grown for planting tied to the back of the bike.

Since then, the group has worked hard to combat invasive pest and plant species on what was less than fondly nicknamed the world’s “second weediest island”. He Atawhai Whenua was initially planted with 50,000 mānuka, intended as a nurse cover, but the plants’ limited longevity hasn’t kept up with the long-term nature of the group’s work. 

“We’ve ended up with large gaps in the bush,” explains Lincoln. “That’s why for the last few years we’ve been doing mediation planting: focusing on kānuka, which will live a long time, and next māhoe — those pioneer species that allow everything else to come through.”

The group has also overseen significant environmental wins in the reserve, having achieved the mammoth task of planting over 100,000 native trees on the site. “There’s a lot of ponga coming up on its own, and that’s not something easily propagated in nurseries,” says Lincoln. “For the first time we’ve seen a baby tanekaha that’s self-seeded coming up.”

With the new tree species come the manu. “We see plenty of the more common birds like pīwakawaka and tūī, and the kererū like it in there, particularly for the kōwhai. During lockdown we’ve seen more birds coming out — I’ve seen kākāriki. And kākā on Waiheke have become quite common; only about 10 - 12 years ago they were really rare.”

The work on He Atawhai Whenua, and likewise at Onetangi, has only been possible with the support of the local community. “We’ve been at the weekly Saturday market sharing literature every week for decades,” says Lincoln. “I liaise with neighbours bordering the reserves to try to spread the good word, especially if there’s weeds along the boundary.”

“Over time we’ve run events like walking festivals, get your hands dirty planting events and engage with the schools over understanding ecosystems better and getting students involved in baiting and dotterel protection. We’ve had planting events where we’ve had a DJ, BBQ, and more, to try and attract a wide range of people.”

The Forest and Bird projects have also attracted many supporters in the form of Trees That Count funders, with hundreds of individuals donating to make up the 2000 trees that will be planted at He Atawhai Whenua and Onetangi this year. 

“The 2000 trees from Trees That Count mean we can get more in the ground this year, while focusing our own resources on vital pest and weed control,” says Lincoln. The vision for the island is to eventually be completely pest free, and for the native forest reserves to provide a haven for endemic species and humans alike. 

You can follow the Hauraki Islands Forest & Bird group’s work on their Facebook page or get in touch by emailing