By Wayne Beggs, Biodiversity Ranger in Akaroa.
What did dryland coastal Canterbury forests look like before the weeds and pests invaded? That’s the question DOC Technical Advisor Anna Paltridge and I set out to answer.
We had been searching high and low for a block of native bush that we could fence and protect when we found exactly what we were after at Little River on Banks Peninsula.
This north-facing patch of pasture and regenerating bush overlooking Wairewa/Lake Forsyth had been on the market for a while when we stumbled across it. The price was right, probably because farmers were put off by the lack of permanently flowing water.
We were surprised when we took a walk around the property and saw how much forest remained. A highlight was a grove of six perfectly formed mataī trees and a large kahikatea that somehow missed being milled as well as regenerating tōtara.
The bush was alive with forest birds including kererū, bellbirds, grey warblers, brown creepers, fantails, moreporks and riflemen. We quickly put in an offer and it was accepted.
As soon as the papers were signed we got in touch with the QEII National Trust and Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust to start working towards creating two covenants at what we call Tirowaikare. This patch of dryland forest has survived burning, milling and grazing, and we wanted to make sure that it will be protected from future threats long after we are gone.
Since our purchase, ecological consultancy Wildlands have made a couple of exciting discoveries.
First, Brian Patrick spotted a moth not seen since 1935, flitting about in a clearing. The small yellow torticid moth Epichorista lindsayi was first described by entomologist Stuart Lindsay who collected five specimens in a day at Little River in 1928. He found another five over the next five years on Banks Peninsula, but these were the last sightings.
Then Melissa Hutchison found a mysterious undescribed Amanita noddy flycap fungus. Looking a bit like Gandalf’s wizard hat, it’s been found only twice before in the South Island and eight times in the North Island. Experts are baffled as to whether this frilly-looking fungus is a New Zealand native or an import.
Our dream is to showcase what lowland forests of Banks Peninsula were like before the arrival of animal pests and weeds. The previous owner pointed the way to what could be done by covenanting half a hectare of forest with the Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust. Ten years later, that area is flourishing and we’re extending that covenant to seven hectares. We’re also covenanting another six hectares with the QEII Trust.
It’s a big task that we’ve taken on. Many of my weekends are spent cutting weeds including barberry, hawthorn, boxthorn, sycamore and elderberry then smearing their stumps with herbicide gel.
My biggest worry is deer which I’ve seeing doing terrible damage in scenic reserves on Banks Peninsula. Anna and I opted to pay the extra for smaller-gauge fawn fencing, expensive but essential to protect our conservation investment.
The good thing is that we are getting a lot of help. Environment Canterbury granted us $65,000 towards building deer fences and $3000 towards weed control. This funding came from its Biodiversity Fund which distributes about $400,000 a year to on-the-ground actions to protect and restore biodiversity in Canterbury.
The QEII Trust gave us another $14,904 towards fences. Christchurch QEII representative Alice Shanks is helping set up monitoring and photo points so we can track our progress. We’ve also roped in a few friends to give us a hand with events like the Barberry Busters day that we’re hoping will become a regular event.
University of Florida wildlife, ecology and conservation students have paid us a couple of visits. They said it was magical getting out in the field. Learning what it’s really like to conserve biodiversity was much more powerful than anything they’d learned in books, they said.
There are plenty of rewards along the way, such as seeing the understorey return to the forest which turns yellow in spring with the flowering of many large kōwhai.
Thanks to all those involved in helping make this happen and for your continued support — our work at Tirowaikare has just begun.