Lessons from a summer spent weeding

Department of Conservation —  31/03/2016

By Christina Gilderdale

Over the summer I spent four months working on DOC’s summer weeds team based in Mangaweka. My last job was in a library, so this was definitely a change of scenery!

Here are a few lessons I learned during the season:

1. Watch out for spikes

The first rule of weeds team – it pays to spot any spiky plants before moving forwards into the undergrowth. Ongaonga (native stinging nettle) and bush lawyer are common and abundant in the Mangaweka area, and accidentally walking into a large clump of either one will not improve your day. Happily, most other pointy plants are weeds, like blackberry and barberry, so you can get them before they get you.

Ongaonga/stinging nettle.


2. Protective equipment is your friend

Chaps will keep your legs from looking like you lost a fight with a tiger, as well as stopping any ongaonga stings between ankle and mid-thigh height. A spray-suit and face-mask will stop you looking like a chemical-contaminated Smurf if an unexpected wind gust shifts herbicide mist back towards you. Admittedly, working in summer means each team member has to find a happy medium between maximum protection and minimum risk of heatstroke.

3. Your appearance is not integral

Spending a full work day bush-bashing off the track and crawling around in the undergrowth searching for the elusive roots of an old man’s beard vine means that you are not going to be impeccably groomed. Your fashion choices should bear in mind that you will be hot, cold, wet, muddy, sunblocked, possibly blood-stained (see spiky plants), with a fancy bugs and twigs accessorised hairstyle.

Spraying for old man's beard.

Spraying for old man’s beard.

4. Life with mobile coverage is possible. Really!

We adjusted quite well to lack of mobile phone coverage during the day – but we did have to train friends and family not to expect speedy message responses, no not even on our lunch break.

5. Enjoy the scenery

A lot of the reserve land doesn’t have tracks, but since it does have weeds, we got to see heaps of places that aren’t easily accessible to the public.

Beautiful view of the Rangitikei River.

Working beside the Rangitikei River

6. Your garden is important.

Many of the ‘weeds’ we have in New Zealand are things that started out in gardens because they were pretty or useful. Some of these, like sycamore trees and blackberries, are still grown in gardens today. It’s a big boost to weed control efforts when the community gets involved by removing seed sources from their gardens.

Removing a sycamore tree.

Roughly 100 sycamore seedlings, removed from only a couple of square metres!

7. A change is as good as a rest.

Seeing a target weed species in your dreams (or nightmares) is a common side-effect of getting really good at spotting it in the field. (You will also see it on car trips and recreational bush walks. Sorry.) So switching tasks and/or species regularly, even if it’s just for a day, really boosts team morale!

Weeders celebrating their victory over a very large and widespread clump of old man's beard.

Gabby and Kelly celebrating their victory over a very large and widespread clump of old man’s beard

8. Mangaweka is an awesome place to live and work.

The town and the people are great, and the location puts you right by the Rangitikei River, as well as heaps of cool reserves, like Bruce Park, Mangaweka Scenic Reserve, and Makino Scenic Reserve.

The view of Mangaweka from Mangaweka Scenic Reserve.

The view of Mangaweka from Mangaweka Scenic Reserve

War on Weeds

Hundreds of invasive weeds are smothering our native forests, wetlands and coastal areas, harming our wildlife and transforming our natural landscapes. We invite you to join with DOC and Weedbusters to fight this war on weeds.

5 responses to Lessons from a summer spent weeding

    Jane Hughes 31/03/2016 at 9:28 am

    Nicely done – brings back vivid memories of my time destroying Old Man’s Beard above the roaring Mohaka River at Willowflat, Hawkes Bay 25 years ago …. I still get that sickly sinking shudder when I spot a teensy weensy OMB leaf on the forest floor at 100 paces!


    Timely posting – watch out for spikes…. thorn in my finger from last nights efforts lol