Hi Everybody Nick here.
When Marc Slade signed up to Enhancing the Halo I don’t think he was aware just how the concept of restoring the dawn chorus would motivate him. We both met at Joes Garage for a coffee and Marc was absolutely buzzing about the possible idea of community trapping in Polhill Reserve. I told him to write a blog about his plan and here it is!
Thanks Nick. Since I moved to Wellington, about eight years ago, I have always lived in Brooklyn, close to the Polhill Reserve. Polhill Reserve (and Waimapihi Reserves and George Denton Park – all part of the same area of regenerating bush) is situated between Brooklyn, Aro Valley and Highbury and is adjacent to Zealandia (formerly known as the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary). Since I moved here I have regularly used the reserve for recreation and as a route to work – getting a recharge of “ecotherapy” in the process. This has become increasingly easy owing to the number of new tracks that have been built by the Wellington mountain biking community, supported by WCC – though vigilance is always advised owing to the growing number of users.
Return of the native…
The number of people now using the reserve for biking, running, walking, commuting, dog walking or just relaxing has increased enormously (12,000 were recorded over a one month period). As well as increased use by humans I have noticed an increase in the number of native birds, both in the reserve itself and increasingly spilling out into neighbouring gardens. I couldn’t believe my eyes one Saturday when I saw a North Island robin hopping about on our raised vegetable beds. We now see and hear kaka daily, often shooting over the garden at high speed and low altitude on the way to or from somewhere, whistling and screeching as they go. Our kowhai tree is full of tui jostling for nectar from the golden flowers at this time of year; the song of the tiny grey warbler is a constant accompaniment to our gardening and flocks of silvereyes flit from tree to tree searching for insects all year round.
This increase in native birds has happened thanks to the great work of Zealandia and ongoing pest control carried out by Greater Wellington and Wellington City Council in adjacent reserves. Thanks to these efforts Polhill Reserve is now home to a number of rare native New Zealand birds including; North Island robin, kakariki, whitehead and even saddleback. These birds have all been reintroduced into the sanctuary and as they have outgrown the space available to them they have dispersed from Zealandia, and are beginning to breed in the reserve. A number of other native birds including; fantail, grey warbler, tui, shining cuckoo, and kaka are becoming increasingly common visitors. The reserve is also home to a number of native reptiles and insects – including the charismatic giant bush dragonfly, and also contains some fine native plants – including the big, flame-trunked native tree fuchsia (kotukutuku) and some fine old gnarly ngaio trees – possibly survivors from when the bush was cleared to make way for farmland in the 19th Century.
Habitat and Halos
Polhill Reserve provides an important buffer zone between Zealandia and urban areas and is part of the “green halo” that wraps around the Zealandia expanding the habitat available to these urban natives. Greater Wellington Regional Council class this reserve as a “Key Native Ecosystem” (KNE) owing to its proximity to Zealandia, and controls animal pests through a network of bait stations targeting possums and ship rats, and DOC200 kill traps targeting stoats, rats and hedgehogs. These help to keep numbers of predators down to give the native wildlife chance to establish. Wellington City Council also controls a number of pest plants which threaten to out-compete native plants, changing the character of the reserve forever.
Despite this pest control, introduced predators – stoats, rats, feral cats and hedgehogs still pose a major threat to adult birds, chicks and eggs and at present the bait stations and stoat traps are only checked and refilled once every three months. As more and more endangered species start to leave the safety of Zealandia’s predator-proof fence, and make Polhill their home the frequency of this pest control needs to increase to give them a fighting chance.
Time for action…
After visiting intact and majestic stands of native forest such as at Otari-Wilton’s Bush, the Wainuiomata Waterworks Reserve and Kaitoke Regional Park (all local) I have dreamt of restoring this area to its former glory. I have visualised the steep hills cloaked in a canopy of tawa and kohekohe, the crowns of mighty rimu, rata, matai and miro emerging through the canopy festooned with epiphytes (the clinging plants that grow in the crowns of mature trees). I imagine the steep gullies filled with ferns, nikau palms and the mighty buttresses of pukatea. I imagine this forest full of bird song, the whirring of kereru wings, flocks of chattering kakariki, maybe even kiwi stomping through the undergrowth, kokako leaping between the trees, squirrel-like.
In order to realise this vision I wanted to start working in the reserve with all the other people who use and love this understated treasure, to develop a vision and a plan to turn it into a reality. But before I do this I want to help by taking direct action and tackling the most immediate threat to the increasing numbers of native species calling this place home – introduced predators. When I heard that the pest control being undertaken was only quarterly I offered my services to set up a community based group to carry out trapping. I was stoked when Illona Keenan, Wellington City Council’s pest control officer asked me if I wanted to take over the trapping operation, increasing its frequency to at least monthly. I gladly accepted.
I had already met and talked to some of the many people and groups involved in the reserve. I now needed to recruit a team of volunteers to work with me to keep predator numbers down. First of all a friend offered his services. I then approached the Brooklyn Trail builders to post an appeal on their excellent Facebook page. This elicited a number of expressions of interest – the first being from Jack, a young Aro Valley resident. I gladly accepted his offer. Subsequently 8 other people contacted me offering their services. I hadn’t even posted the advert in the local community papers, the Valley Voice and Brooklyn Tatler – which had been my first port of call.
I will now set up a rota, systems to record what we have caught and divide the reserve into three “trap lines” – there are 16 traps in total. I plan to provide training to all the volunteers with no experience of trapping. We may also start trialling other means to monitor predator numbers such as using chew cards, as well as starting to monitor bird numbers.
Once we’ve got the trapping going along nicely, with a dedicated team of volunteers, I am keen to raise awareness of the value of this reserve to wildlife. One of the ways I want to do this is to discover what else lives here. I plan to carry out a lizard survey with some local “lizard nuts” (sorry Richard, Trent). I’m also keen to find out what insects and other creepy crawlies (mini beasts) live here and even what lives in the reserve’s two permanent streams. I know native fish live in one, and koura (freshwater crayfish) and other freshwater invertebrates live in both. I’m also hoping to persuade those stalwarts of the plant world, the Wellington Botanical Society (or BotSoc to their friends) to carry out a botanising trip to find out what plants, native and weedy, are present.
I plan to involve local residents and schools in these activities, to increase awareness of some of our natural neighbours, and hopefully encourage an increased sense of stewardship – or kaitiakitanga – of this place.
Living the dream
When we have built up a head of steam and galvanised the local community it would be great to develop a long-term restoration plan. Start planting the “missing species” like rimu in amongst the mahoe and karamu that’s present now. Plant nikau palms and pukatea in the gullies. Maybe, if predator numbers are low enough, install nest boxes in the big old tree fuchsias for increasing numbers of saddleback (tieke), stitchbirds (hihi) and robins (toutouwai). I have a dream. One day, long after I have left this life, this area in urban Wellington will once again resemble the mighty forest that once cloaked this land from coast to coast.
If you would like to volunteer to check traps, get involved in monitoring native species and pest animals, or just find out more about my vision for this area please contact me – Marc Slade on 021 02781556 or firstname.lastname@example.org