War on weeds at Morere

Dumped garden waste threatens rainforest.

Dumped garden waste threatens rainforest.

FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT: During the past year, Department of Conservation biodiversity ranger Graeme Atkins has been battling weeds at Morere Scenic Reserve to protect the native forest. Senior biodiversity ranger Don McLean (left) says many of the weeds have come from people’s gardens in the area and been dumped over the years. Pictures by Liam Clayton
THANKLESS WORK: How the forest areas looked before Gisborne Department of Conservation biodiversity ranger Graeme Atkins and his volunteers got involved. The work begins by attacking the thick weeds with chainsaws, then pulling them off the native trees deep below, before using herbicide at the base to kill them. After removing weeds, they plant the spaces up soon after with appropriate native plants.
TRENCH WARFARE: A path cleared through the weeds to enable the workers to get nearer to their targets.
Weeding work at Morere
Weeding work at Morere

A WAR has been going on at Morere, a war against invasive weeds attempting to destroy a precious area of native rainforest.

Morere Springs Scenic Reserve is among the region’s finest attractions, with gorgeous hot pools nestled into one of the last remaining tracts of lowland rainforest on the East Coast.

Several walks through the reserve, ranging from 10-minute strolls to three-hour grunts, soak up the unique atmosphere with flocks of kereru and tui — among many others — making the abundance of native trees and shrubs home.

All of this 364-hectare nature haven is under constant threat from invasive weeds. Japanese honeysuckle, blackberry, hedge vines and elaeagnus, to be exact.

The vine-like honeysuckle wraps itself around trees and plants like a boa constrictor, eventually smothering and suffocating them, dragging them to the floor and finally devouring them.

In areas with heavy infestation, the vines warp trees, causing them to grow horizontally, before killing them too.

Eventually, all that remains are the weeds.

Department of Conservation (DoC) ranger Graeme Atkins has been waging a war on the weeds, literally giving blood in the process.

He and a team of volunteers have spent around three weeks over the past year in the first stages of a five-year weed eradication and maintenance programme.

If it was just one weed, it would be more manageable, Mr Atkins said.

Painful work

But the combination of the weeds, and especially blackberry, means even accessing the vines involves a painful exercise, with thorns ripping through clothes and exposed skin.

“People don’t know what goes on behind the scenes,” he said.

“The weed problem is huge.”

The work begins by attacking the thick weeds with chainsaws, then pulling them off the native trees deep below, before using herbicide at the base to kill them.

As soon as they clear one area, there is another as far as the eye can see. After removing the weeds they plant the spaces up soon after with appropriate native plants.

“If we don’t, weeds will simply grow back in those open spaces,” Mr Atkins said. That is why he made sure DoC committed to work here for at least five years.

"I am not giving blood for a two-year commitment, the weeds would just come back. It is tough work and I don’t want to see it go to waste.”

It is a tiring, thankless job with no immediate benefits, but Mr Atkins looks at it in the longer term.

“We have to save our trees,” he said.

A special area

“The whole area here is so special, with matai, totara and nikau growing in abundance. Not many areas around here are remaining like this. We need to look after it. Here I have seen 24 kereru in one tree, and a few pairs of falcons. Long-term, we will look to do regular pest-control here. I can envision groups of 100 kereru flying around together. It is possible, it will just take a bit of work.”

Many landowners in the area have come on board, learning the skills necessary to tackle the weeds on their own property.

A team of 30 horticulture students from Eastern Institute of Technology — from the Gisborne, Ruatoria and Wairoa campuses — have incorporated the work into their courses, joining Mr Atkins throughout the year, along with several Woofers at the hot pools.

Mr Atkins has been at the helm of this often-tiring, and always-uphill, war against the weeds. Some days he is surrounded by his tireless team of volunteers, while on other occasions he is alone, fighting the thankless fight.

“We’d be buggered without the volunteers,” he said.

“One of the biggest things has been getting the community involved. We have to get the community on board or the weeds will come back. They are part of something good.

“The students enjoy the work too as they learn in the field, and they enjoy the hot pools at the end of the day with nobody around. Hopefully they catch the ‘tree bug’ and want to save them too.”

High public use

Much of the initial work was along State Highway 2 leading to the hot springs. Now they are tackling the weeds further into the reserve, which was chosen for the work as it has high public use.

“The trees are going to do heaps better now, that stuff weighs a tonne,” Mr Atkins said.

“Most reserves we are lucky if people visit them. Here it has high public use and is quite visible. A lot of long-timers come here and praise the good work.”

DoC senior biodiversity ranger Don McLean said lots of the weeds are garden escapees.

“They have originated from people dumping grass clippings and household weeds, and from birds flying seeds in.

“There were also people's gardens in the areas around here that spread.”

Wendy Gibb, who leases the Morere Hot Springs with her husband Paul Hohipa, said the workers are doing “an amazing job, an endless, thankless task. A lot of stuff that people don’t notice”.

Community members were already impressed by the effect of removing weeds and vines from trees along SH2.

“It is great to save our bush. It is a pretty unique place, so the work is well worth it,” Ms Gibb said.

A WAR has been going on at Morere, a war against invasive weeds attempting to destroy a precious area of native rainforest.

Morere Springs Scenic Reserve is among the region’s finest attractions, with gorgeous hot pools nestled into one of the last remaining tracts of lowland rainforest on the East Coast.

Several walks through the reserve, ranging from 10-minute strolls to three-hour grunts, soak up the unique atmosphere with flocks of kereru and tui — among many others — making the abundance of native trees and shrubs home.

All of this 364-hectare nature haven is under constant threat from invasive weeds. Japanese honeysuckle, blackberry, hedge vines and elaeagnus, to be exact.

The vine-like honeysuckle wraps itself around trees and plants like a boa constrictor, eventually smothering and suffocating them, dragging them to the floor and finally devouring them.

In areas with heavy infestation, the vines warp trees, causing them to grow horizontally, before killing them too.

Eventually, all that remains are the weeds.

Department of Conservation (DoC) ranger Graeme Atkins has been waging a war on the weeds, literally giving blood in the process.

He and a team of volunteers have spent around three weeks over the past year in the first stages of a five-year weed eradication and maintenance programme.

If it was just one weed, it would be more manageable, Mr Atkins said.

Painful work

But the combination of the weeds, and especially blackberry, means even accessing the vines involves a painful exercise, with thorns ripping through clothes and exposed skin.

“People don’t know what goes on behind the scenes,” he said.

“The weed problem is huge.”

The work begins by attacking the thick weeds with chainsaws, then pulling them off the native trees deep below, before using herbicide at the base to kill them.

As soon as they clear one area, there is another as far as the eye can see. After removing the weeds they plant the spaces up soon after with appropriate native plants.

“If we don’t, weeds will simply grow back in those open spaces,” Mr Atkins said. That is why he made sure DoC committed to work here for at least five years.

"I am not giving blood for a two-year commitment, the weeds would just come back. It is tough work and I don’t want to see it go to waste.”

It is a tiring, thankless job with no immediate benefits, but Mr Atkins looks at it in the longer term.

“We have to save our trees,” he said.

A special area

“The whole area here is so special, with matai, totara and nikau growing in abundance. Not many areas around here are remaining like this. We need to look after it. Here I have seen 24 kereru in one tree, and a few pairs of falcons. Long-term, we will look to do regular pest-control here. I can envision groups of 100 kereru flying around together. It is possible, it will just take a bit of work.”

Many landowners in the area have come on board, learning the skills necessary to tackle the weeds on their own property.

A team of 30 horticulture students from Eastern Institute of Technology — from the Gisborne, Ruatoria and Wairoa campuses — have incorporated the work into their courses, joining Mr Atkins throughout the year, along with several Woofers at the hot pools.

Mr Atkins has been at the helm of this often-tiring, and always-uphill, war against the weeds. Some days he is surrounded by his tireless team of volunteers, while on other occasions he is alone, fighting the thankless fight.

“We’d be buggered without the volunteers,” he said.

“One of the biggest things has been getting the community involved. We have to get the community on board or the weeds will come back. They are part of something good.

“The students enjoy the work too as they learn in the field, and they enjoy the hot pools at the end of the day with nobody around. Hopefully they catch the ‘tree bug’ and want to save them too.”

High public use

Much of the initial work was along State Highway 2 leading to the hot springs. Now they are tackling the weeds further into the reserve, which was chosen for the work as it has high public use.

“The trees are going to do heaps better now, that stuff weighs a tonne,” Mr Atkins said.

“Most reserves we are lucky if people visit them. Here it has high public use and is quite visible. A lot of long-timers come here and praise the good work.”

DoC senior biodiversity ranger Don McLean said lots of the weeds are garden escapees.

“They have originated from people dumping grass clippings and household weeds, and from birds flying seeds in.

“There were also people's gardens in the areas around here that spread.”

Wendy Gibb, who leases the Morere Hot Springs with her husband Paul Hohipa, said the workers are doing “an amazing job, an endless, thankless task. A lot of stuff that people don’t notice”.

Community members were already impressed by the effect of removing weeds and vines from trees along SH2.

“It is great to save our bush. It is a pretty unique place, so the work is well worth it,” Ms Gibb said.

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Brenda Chapman - 6 months ago
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