Article for Seasons Magazine by Catherine Smith
It might be a wet fourth Saturday of the month but that doesn’t dampen the spirits of the many Friends of Waiwhakareke who have assembled in the car park opposite the Hamilton Zoo to put more native plants in the ground.
Planting actually started back in 2004 on this particular 60 hectare site chosen especially because it has the potential to represent the original biodiversity of the Hamilton Basin as it was back in the early 1800's when the first European settlers arrived to extract kauri gum and start farming. Half of the park has now been planted thanks to the thousands of hours already given and Waiwhakareke is now recognized both nationally and internationally, the most recent recognition being from the Society for Ecological Restoration, Australasia.
One of the partners in the project is Tui 2000 Inc., a community group that was established in 1989 with the goal of bringing native birds (especially tui) back to Hamilton City and central Waikato. The other partners are Hamilton City Council, WINTEC and the University of Waikato. To meet the cost of the thousands of eco-sourced plants required for the project, Tui 2000 has attracted substantial funding from organizations such as Waikato Regional Council, Ministry for the Environment, DoC, and the Waikato Catchment Ecological Enhancement Trust.
Planting continues on a regular basis with the help of the Friends of Waiwhakareke, Hamilton City Council staff and other volunteers. Being a community focused partnership, it attracts a wide range of people from company staff, academics, iwi representatives, retired business people, students, school children, and new settlers who are passionate about the project and its vision.
Arbor Day planting in early June is an annual event at the park and in 2017 it attracted over 1200 school children, caregivers, teachers and other volunteers. To see so many children come back year after year with enhanced planting skills is just one of the joys of becoming involved in this project.
The activities associated with the park include planting (winter months), releasing plants from surrounding weeds (summer months) and producing plants for the project. This latter activity takes place at the Waikato Ecological Enhancement Nursery in Airport Rd, on the National Fieldays site at Mystery Creek. Three times a month avid native plant lovers gather to pot on a large variety of native plants specifically chosen for the planting plan devised by Waikato University staff.
While Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park (WNHP) now has enough funding to pay for plants needed for the next 4 years, the greatest challenge still remains. All involved would like to see the park open to the public for their enjoyment and recreation. Suitable walking paths, toilet facilities and interpretive signage are needed. As Hamilton City Council debates its Long Term Plan over the next few months it is imperative that the funding proposed in the budget is realized.
For further information about working bees, potting activities and associated events go to www.waiwhakareke.co.nz or email Tui2000inc@gmail.com. And we are on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/waiwhakarekenaturalheritagepark/