Day 3: Bringing back the tuis

21 Jan, 2013
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Day three of the Clarion Tour saw our van drive in Hamilton City for a long hot day of restoration/recreation work at the Waiwhakareke natural restoration project.

Waiwhakareke is situated between Norton and Te Rapa in the North of Hamilton next to the Hamilton Zoo. The area was formally farmland and is a long term project to recreate natural New Zealand bush in urban Hamilton. The Hamilton area has a notable absence of native birds particularly the Tui which requires a corridor of habit in order to travel between destinations.

The Waikato’s fertile rolling hills (compared to Auckland) has meant that most of the forests were cleared for farming compared to other centres such as Auckland and Wellington where marginal land meant some native forests were preserved. Where Auckland has its Manukau Foreshore, Waitakere and Hunua ranges and Wellington has its town belt and Zealandia, Hamilton now has its Waiwhakareke.

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Partners in the Waiwhakareke project include the Hamilton City Council, The University of Waikato, Wintec, Nga Mana Toopu O Kirikiriroa and Tui 2000. Tui 2000 are a charitable organisation committed to returning the tui to Hamilton. They organise working bees to plant trees and support their growth into healthy native bush.

Recreating native bush from farmland is hard work and an expensive enterprise requiring considerable resources in time and money. Volunteers are essential to this effort. That’s where we came in. Planting trees has become somewhat symbolic of environmental efforts. However very rarely do we think of the effort required after trees are planted to ensure they survive and establish themselves. The growth of grass and weeds is one of the main problems associated with planting in former farmland. Until trees get to a certain height weeds and grass can shadow over newly planted trees and prevent their growth.

George, our friendly volunteer from Tui 2000 taught us how to do the “pukeko dance” where we stomped our feet on the grass around each native, “releasing” the tree so it could survive and grow to its potential. We were joined in our efforts by Hamilton based MP Sue Moroney, who also kindly bought us lunch and dinner. Releasing trees is something that has to be done several times a year in each section of plantings.

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George aptly pointed out the importance of restoring native bush in Hamilton so that local Maori particularly young people had a landscape that was their own, with flora and fauna that represented part of who they were. He also pointed out the importance of creating a place where migrant communities could learn about native New Zealand bush in an accessible manner.

We were reminded while doing this important mahi that in all community efforts including environmental restoration there is politics involved. At the centre of initiatives such as Waiwhakareke is decision making at all levels of government, commerce and most importantly community. It was a reminder to Young Labour of why we get involved because it’s only through our participation in politics (at every level) that we can create a more sustainable and just world.

By Soraiya Daud

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