The natural bush cover of most of these islands was felled and replaced with pasture back in a time when it was believed that farming the islands would produce a living for those who had acquired the land. As farming was found to be uneconomic, the farming ceased and the islands became a tangle of Kikuyu grass that choked off any hope of the regeneration of the natural habitat.
In recent decades projects have sprung up the restore the vegetation on these islands to their more natural state and re-introduce native bird species that have become rare, especially on the main islands where introduced species, predators and we humans, have created an environment hostile to their survival.
We would see evidence of these projects during our walks. On some islands such as Tiri Tiri Matangi, the project was well advanced, while on the more numerous islands in the Bay of Islands, restoration was at different stages in the long process. I made a vow that one day I would repay the pleasure we had from these walks by trying to contribute some of my time.
Well over the current week, that time has finally arrived.
In helping a local community group to get online I found that many of those involved were also involved in Project Island Song and, being planting season, they needed help. Firstly to move the 2,000 plants to the planting site on one of the Islands (Urukpukapuka) in preparation for a community planting effort on Sunday and, helping with that planting effort on Sunday.
So yesterday morning I set off on a new type of detour, one that involved a lot of sweat, a little blood but fortunately no tears. The mission, without the “if you choose to accept it” option was; to get 2,000, 3 year old trees, to the Island, transport them off a barge and then distribute them around a rather steep hillside ready for the larger numbers of planters who will arrive on Sunday to put them into the ground. No roads or motorised transport on the island, just your arms and legs.
Now while we are in the last throws of Autumn, somebody has gotten the weather controls all messed up (it can’t be global warming can it?). So rather than carrying out this exercise in pleasant autumn conditions, we had more than a little heat still to contend with. Heat, hills and heavy loads, say no more.
We had the fun aspect such as whizzing along at 30knots in a barge powered by two 180hp outboard motors but the “hard yards” aspect of multiple trips up the hill lugging trays containing around 15 plants was what the day was all about. It took 3 barge trips to transport all 2,000 plants so in our “down time” we got to do some planting rather than sitting around swapping stories about our trips up and down the hill.
There we about 10 of us of whom most were long term volunteers who have done this for many years. Some were also part of the volunteer group that grew the plants from seeds, spending a day a week operating a commercial sized nursery operation that supplies plants for this and other restoration projects in the North of New Zealand.
The understatement of the day was the comment that; “it is easy to destroy our environment but much much much harder (and costly) to restore it”. Once planted, the “fingers are crossed” that the following summer will be kind as there are no irrigation systems on these remote islands and then, some years later, assuming none of those nasty predators get the opportunity to set up shop, the expensive exercise of the capture and release of birds to their new home can take place. After that, nature should take it’s course and do what it did really well until we came along. But that is a slow process that will take several generations to achieve.
It was hard but rewarding work and that beer was just so much more guilt free at the end of the day. I was told that they were still a little short on help for Sunday, so I have worked on my travel mate Ruth, going through the usual sales pitch such as; the Island is flat(ish), no biking is required, a little hiking is in order but she will be so busy looking at the amazing views that she won’t even notice it. Furthermore, I will dig the holes, all she has to do is pop the trees in.
She is “up for it”, so our our next little adventure will be back on Urupukapuka Island on Sunday.