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History of Friends of Queen Elizabeth Park
Maori utilized the land now designated as Queen Elizabeth Park for hundreds of years with large settlements on Wainui and Whareroa Streams. Their direct impact on the main plant communities is unclear, but a significant area of the park was wetland, with waterways accessible by canoe. About mid-19th century European settlers began clearing forest, draining the wetland, and sowing pasture. Increasingly depleted native ecosystems persisted into the 20th century. During WW2 (1942-1943) QEP beaches, dune lands and surrounds became training grounds for a total of 20,000 U S Marines based in Camps Russell and Paekakariki - a third (Camp MacKay) was nearby on Whareroa Farm.
In August 1952 the government-appointed 'Paekakariki and Raumati Recreation Committee’ recommended establishing Queen Elizabeth Park, and in 1953 it was gazetted in parliament by the Queen Elizabeth Park Domain Act. The park was named for Queen Elizabeth II before her coronation and was opened during the Royal Visit in 1953. A Board was formed to administer the park. QEP was then managed as one unit with Whareroa Farm by the Lands and Survey Department from the 1950s to 1970s, then QEP management passed to Kapiti Coast District Council, and finally in the 1990s to GWRC. The Park hosts several concessionaires: Stables in the Park, a Tramways Museum, and a model airplane club, and has two farm leases.
Under the guidance of GWRC a local community 'care' group, The Friends of QEP, was set up in 2004. It continues to the present with the aim of protecting and enhancing the special natural, historic, cultural and recreational values of the park. In June 2011, after months of collaboration, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the Friends and GWRC - the first for a Wellington Regional Park. This MOU will deliver smoother management and procedures, and open good faith communication in a 'no surprises' environment.
Numerous weed species are present and some are problematic. Substantial effort has been put in to plantings, and some landscaping, to conserve, restore and where appropriate enlarge, the coastal dunes, the wetlands and streams, and the remnant dune swamp kahikatea forest. The dunes are significant in the lower North Island as examples of a once more extensive system, in which geology, plants and fauna are valuably represented. The consolidated inland foredunes are listed by the KCDC Plan as ecologically and geologically significant. Plant communities are listed in the DOC Regional Plant Strategy as of "considerable conservation concern".
Existing wetlands are much reduced from earlier times. Some are ephemeral, some fenced and regenerating or undergoing restoration. They are valuable habitat for fish, frogs and birds, and are mentioned in GWRC Wetland Action Plan as sites for future consideration. Dabchicks are commonly present. The Whareroa Stream in the north end of the park falls from Whareroa Farm Park in a quite modified eroded catchment that meanders through native plants near the coast and is a valuable site for native fish. This stream, and the southern Wainui Stream, which is less modified, offer significant habitat for native invertebrates and fish, and have attracted Massey University biologists. The Friends have carried out riparian plantings to improve the streams as habitat for native fresh water animals.
The remnant dune swamp kahikatea forest is a very rare ecosystem that the Friends have restored and enlarged by vigorous planting. It is dominated by kahikatea, with kanuka, kohekohe, tawa, nikau and pukatea. Restoration is directed at increasing the forest area to 20ha and ultimately nearer 50ha so that stability is improved, and raising the representation of low frequency or previously present species like the milk trees, swamp maire, matai and totara. A core taken from one kahikatea indicated that the remnant is over 90 years old, which is consistent with a similar core-sample, taken on adjacent Whareroa Farm. It appears likely the forest grew primarily from the soil seed bank following earlier land clearance for farming.
Mammal trapping is having positive effects. Of 637 mammals trapped or shot in the park between August 2009 and May 2011 there were 628 predators: 13% mustelids, 25% rats, 40% mice, 21% hedgehogs, 1% possums, averaging 6.5 predators per week. Weasels occur in high numbers, but no ferrets have been caught. All rats are R. norvegicus, and are more common near the south end of the park while hedgehogs are fewer there than the north end. Rabbits are shot and poisoned, mainly in the north-west of the park and few hares and cats are encountered. Numerous native bird species are increasing and the population of ground nesting California quail appears to be strengthening.
Restoration plantings show noticeable growth within 2-3 years so volunteers can quickly see return for their efforts. Moreover tree core evidence shows that self-regenerating forest can achieve a closed canopy in little more than a human lifetime. Natural events (storms, drought, stock damage) lasting only a few days or weeks can, however, set back restoration work by years, so care groups must maintain a long view. Sources of funds for restoration tend to be ‘ephemeral’, highly competitive, and often influenced by local or central government fiscal policies.