Rachel Milne, Community Ranger, Waikato District Office
A community group in Hamilton proves many small actions combined can have a significant impact on our native flora.
How do you achieve a big, challenging goal? You break it down into small, simple steps.
This is something Hamilton’s Friends of Mangaonua Esplanade group knows very well.
The group gathers on a bright Thursday morning in September, ready for three hours spent carefully getting rid of pest plants one by one. Today the group is made up of dedicated retirees, an enthusiastic university student and two Department of Conservation (DOC) community rangers lending a hand.
George Lusty is the group coordinator: “We use the Bradley method. Have you heard of that?” he asks.
“You start by working from the ‘good’ part of the forest. So, for example, a native tree covered in honeysuckle. You remove the honeysuckle from the tree and the area a couple of metres around it.”
“Work at the pace the forest is regenerating, encouraging the forest to be the best version of itself,” George explains. “It’s about working with nature instead of against it.”
“The Bradley method is our preferred approach because it actually works. The ‘plant and walk away’ approach doesn’t work, and is destroying the natural regeneration process,” says George Lusty.
The method was developed in Sydney in the 1960s and 1970s by Joan and Eileen Bradley, who started picking out weeds when they walked in their neighbourhood park. Over time, the weeds decreased significantly, and they noticed a huge improvement in the regeneration of native species.
It’s a slow, bit by bit approach but it works. Each weed pulled up is a step closer to a restored ecosystem.
You can see the effect this approach has had in this small corner of Hamilton.The valley is a collection of lush plant life with regenerating ngahere/forest.
“Some of the significant plant types here are kahikatea – New Zealand’s tallest tree – harakeke, kawakawa, and fern species like bracken fern, mamaku, wheki and ponga,” says George, reeling off plant names and showing his deep knowledge and passion for the species here.
There is an intensely peaceful feeling in this calm oasis, away from traffic and surrounded by greenery. The native species are silently reclaiming this hidden landscape, tucked in below the nearby houses.
A first walk through Mangaonua Esplanade may leave you astonished and delighted that this kind of place exists within Hamilton’s city boundaries. Seeing such beautiful nature in the city instils a sense of inspiration, motivation and excitement.
And it began with a small question: why? George explains.
“I was living in Hillcrest and noticed Silverdale Gully or Mangaonua Esplanade, as we call it, had work done – but weeds were taking over again. I was talking to Gerard Kelly of the Hamilton City Council and said, ‘Someone should do something’ so he suggested that I start a gully care group. That was four years ago, and the group has made great progress since.”
And another small action – borrowing a book – introduced him to the concepts of the Bradley restoration method.
Maxine Fraser lent George a book, Bringing Back the Bush by Joan Bradley, that introduced him to the concepts of the Bradley restoration method.
“Maxine had visited the site in Sydney the Bradley sisters restored and was sure that this was the best way.”
So George and friends gave it a go, and had great success.
This slow, bit-by bit approach works for the group’s volunteers, who are motivated because they like being in nature. They come back each week to chip away a bit more at their large goal.
They get a sense of significance because they’re doing something to restore the forest and mitigate climate change.
Working bees are held every Thursday from 9.15am to 12.15pm and the second Saturday of each month from 10am to 12 noon. Everyone is welcome.
Hamilton City Council and other groups support the project by donating plants and providing funding.
A member of the public wanders down the path and gives some encouraging feedback: “I’ve been walking here a lot lately and I just love it.”
When we suggested he tell his friends, he replies, “No, I’m not telling anybody!” It’s the peace and quiet people love about this hidden spot.
Mangaonua is proof many small steps can contribute to huge achievements. It shows the powerful impact a few people can have on their local biodiversity.
It’s a reminder every little action counts. Through small individual acts, we can achieve big goals for Papatūānuku and for the nature she provides.
This event took place during COVID-19 Alert Level 2. Hamilton’s recent shift into Alert Level 3 currently restricts us from interacting with people outside our household bubbles.
Friends of Mangaonua Esplanade Silverdale Contact information:
George Lusty – Coordinator, Friends of Mangaonua Esplanade Silverdale
Phone 027 210 3884
Bringing Back the Bush: The Bradley method of bush regeneration. Joan Bradley. (1988) Sydney: Reed New Holland.