05.10.08 17:52 Age: 9 yrs

A Tuesday on the Maunga

By: Kit Howden

Every Tuesday morning volunteers from the Friends of Maungawhau gather on the western and southern slopes of the international heritage park of Maungawhau, Mt Eden to help restore native vegetation and maintain walking tracks.

The area has been abused for many years having been an old quarry that was first planted in pines then cleared, then planted in pohutukawa and grazed. Finally it was left to the forces of erosion and a new flora of pest plants that dominate much of Auckland's urban forest.
Some Tuesdays I am alone planting, weeding and maintaining the track. There is always something new to see and appreciate and I enjoy the physical work and being with nature in the middle of the city. However, it is the dedication of other volunteers  that keeps me involved on this "commons" in the heart of New Zealand's most densely settled area.
On Tuesday a few weeks ago it was busy. I first met Jo who puts in at least  50 hours per month and over the last 3 years has transformed over 1 hectare of pest plants into rich native forest.  The technique involves gradually replacing scheduled pest plants [see] with natives to establish a mixed under story of  New Zealand plant species.  Experiments in planting species from the wider Auckland ecological districts is combined with encouraging natural regeneration. Jo has had to deal with erosion from dogs as well as people who  bush crash down the steep slope. Dog control from Auckland City Council have been helpful and the Friends of Maungawhau hope to put up more education signs to encourage walkers [and their dogs] to keep to tracks.
Rob came and along and talked to us - he is a keen lepidopterist... conserving rare native butterflies like the red admiral which need stinging nettle to breed. The problem is that the exotic species of stinging nettle grows best but it is a scheduled pest plant and is removed by  contractors.  In the interests of wider biodiversity some of us become "eco lawbreakers"  in order to save this rare butterfly.  The species bias invading our environmental legislation does not always have the best outcome and a "deeper" ecological philosophy is needed. Being good conservationists we will try to use the harder to grow native species to prevent the butterfly becoming extinct. The Monarch Butterfly Trust and Oratia Native Plants Nursery are growing the native nettles [see and]  
Judith from the village came along next to discuss her ambition to establish community gardens and fruit trees in parks. I  believe there is a case for non invasive fruit trees to be planted on the Mountain.  I said the Friends would support Judith in taking her case to Council to plant a vacant plot of park land in Mt Eden. I have gathered mushrooms and pine cones from Maungawhau, and there is a walnut tree which produces reasonable nuts, if you can collect them before an enthusiastic, nut eating local dog! However, more fruit trees would help link city folk to the land and educate urban children about where our food comes from. The right to take from the commons is an ancient and natural lore for humans and I believe it can be managed in a sustainable way provided there is active community involvement.
Lastly, I managed to do some practical volunteer tasks. Jean and I refilled the stump treatment bottles [used to control privet and broom] . The use of pesticide to make the ecological change is a challenging one and I hope the Friends can develop a good policy with the Council and Ngati Whatua to limit use. I am confident that the long term use of pesticides for park maintenance is unsustainable and unethical and we need to discuss this further.  
Keith, Jean and Becky are making great progress on the lower slope of the old quarry and  many whau after which Maungawhau is named and other natives have been planted to supplement the regeneration of totara and ferns and other native plants. We are watching the trial herbicide spraying to control the mass regeneration of weeds such as Climbing Dock Rumex sagittatus, convolvulus and Cleavers Galium aparine that will suffocate the regenerating native plants. In the end it is the methodical hand weeding that is required. However this is labour intensive, requiring volunteers who have dedication,  patience and plant identification skills.
While we worked, out of the growing forest came David, the Auckland City  Council volunteer co-ordinator. He is one of those remaining park officers who still wears boots and does the impossible in working closely with us enthusiastic citizens!  We talked about various ways to control large areas of Japanese honeysuckle Lonicera japonica that have already killed a few young pohutukawa.
Finally I got out the line trimmer and cut back growth along the track which goes through to Hillside Crescent and the Summit. It is pleasing to see this walk being well used.
I ended the day with a note to contact Fred from Excel [the present contractors on the Maunga] He is always helpful in disposing of rubbish we collect from around the Mountain.
Volunteers are always welcome to join us; to help make a difference in this central city oasis.
Kit Howden
Friends of Maungawhau

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