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Uawa Weed Warriors defend rare forest remnant

Weeds at Parkers Bush got a short sharp shock this week when students from Tolaga Bay Area School joined forces with community volunteers to save the forest remnant.

Parkers Bush is an 18 hectare block of rare kahikatea forest on the flats of the Uawa River. In 1995, owners Bridget and Mike Parker fenced the area to exclude stock and established a QEII National Trust (open space) covenant to permanently protect it.

The bush has been identified as one of the most valuable forest remnants in the ecological district.

The students and community volunteers, landowners, and Gisborne District Council pest plant control staff, aka the Uawa Weed Warriors, joined QEII National Trust and Weedbusters to tackle a Japanese honeysuckle infestation that is threatening the health of the bush remnant.

The working bee was a pilot project run by Weedbusters and QEII National Trust as part of their joint initiative to support community groups with weed control. They want to use the experience to develop a model of successful community and landowner collaboration that can be replicated for other similar projects.

Tolaga Bay Area School was keen to get involved so its students could learn about the impact of weeds and develop skills to help take care of the environment.

Teacher Richard Tuhaka said it was a fantastic opportunity for the students to get out and be hands-on involved in caring for the environment.

‘We understand it is a mammoth task but every little bit helps. It is better to do something than nothing,’ he said.

Alison Waru, co-chair of the Tolaga Bay Area School Board, said being involved in this sort of work and being there with the students made her realise how short our life is compared to our trees.

‘Having the students doing this work secures the future of this bush. Some of them really get it and will carry the work on in the future,’ Alison said.

QEII National Trust and Weedbusters gave the group a kit of weedbusting tools which will remain in the community. These included secateurs, hedge trimmer, loppers, hand saws, grubbers, and gloves.

After an extensive health and safety briefing, the honeysuckle vines didn’t stand a chance against the enthusiastic team. They also removed a number of woolly nightshade plants, a weed that is one of the dirty dozen species from DOCs War on Weeds programme and a Gisborne District Council ‘total control’ pest plant.

QEII National Trust and Weedbusters funded the project from a Department of Conservation Community Fund grant to support community weed control projects in priority areas throughout New Zealand.

They selected Parkers Bush because of the importance and rareness of kahikatea forest remnants on the East Coast, the invasive impact of Japanese honeysuckle on the forest’s condition, and the opportunities for community engagement and learning.

Weeds impact negatively on our environment, agricultural land, human health (think privet and allergies), and social values by destroying natural and cultural features, Weedbusters and QEII National Trust co-ordinators on the day, Anne Brow and Malcolm Rutherford, said.

‘New Zealand’s invasive weed problem is as serious as our predator problem and can only be tackled if everyone gets involved.

‘It has been great to see the students, landowners and volunteers working together to free the plants of honeysuckle in this special patch of native bush – the skills they’ve picked up in weed identification and weed control is a great start to the wider project.

‘The Uaua Weed Warriors showed us today that a huge difference can be made with just small investment and a team of determined helpers,’ they said.

The day also included a walk to look at the trees and plants that were being protected and to skill up on native vine identification.

Work on enhancing Parkers Bush marks a key step in involvement of landowners and the whole community in managing biodiversity remnants throughout the Uawa Tolaga Bay landscape. It is an important part of the wider ‘Uawanui Project’, a collaborative project driven by Te Aitanga a Hauiti iwi and the local Uawa Tolaga Bay community to deliver on their strategic vision — ‘Healthy Environment – Healthy People’.

Story by Weedbusters and QEII National Trust