It’s not every day a Government minister comes all the way to Raglan to plant a single tree but the spading in of a 10-year-old pohutukawa high on Wainui Reserve last week was no mere electioneering.
The strapping sapling – grown from seed gifted from the sacred Kawhia pohutukawa that marks Tainui’s birthplace – was the two millionth tree to be planted primarily in the Whaingaroa catchment over 25 years, after being nurtured at Whaingaroa Harbour Care’s Wainui Rd nursery.
Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage told the small gathering she was “delighted’ to help plant that tree to mark the milestone.
Her visit to the area continued something of a tradition as the first pohutukawa the nursery supplied to Wainui Reserve was also planted by a politician, the then Environment Minister Simon Upton, Harbour Care founder and regional councillor Fred Lichtwark told the Chronicle proudly.
All the seeds for the 2000 pohutukawa now planted in the reserve had come from the Tainui tree, as it’s known, he added.
After a karakia, Eugenie Sage got on with some spadework to help firm up around the latest planting with clods of earth, at the same time praising Harbour Care’s “commitment and mahi” over the past quarter century.
She paid particular tribute to Fred and Harbour Care chairperson Fiona Edwards for first recognising a need for the long-term conservation project, which encourages riparian planting by working alongside local farmers to fence waterways.
“You have been visionaries for Aotearoa,” she told the duo. “This partnership (Harbour Care and farmers) has delivered real environmental success across the Whaingaroa harbour catchment …
“It is entirely fitting your two millionth tree should be planted here.”
She also pointed out Harbour Care was a thriving community project used as a national model of riparian and catchment management, aiming both to improve water quality and control run-off and sediment.
Now Raglan has one of the cleanest harbours in the country, with locals reporting growth in the populations of a range of fish including massive spikes in whitebait numbers. Another spinoff, Fred added, was that “a third of this 140-hectare property (Wainui Reserve) has doubled in productivity”.
The non-profit Harbour Care group also offers its expertise and resources to the local community for wider conservation and environmental projects and goals, and has been the subject of study and research by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature.
Among those at the tree-planting was marine ecologist Kristel van Houte who leads the Karioi Project – another largely volunteer-run conservation programme – which has worked for 11 years now on restoring Raglan’s coastal forest and its native birdlife.
Part of that work is about bringing back habitat or native breeding grounds, she said – a “flow-on” effect from Harbour Care’s planting of 150,000 individual plants in Wainui Reserve alone, and from its own efforts at predator control.
As a result there are now 50 oi or grey-faced petrel burrows being looked after in the reserve and on the maunga. That compared with only one or two burrows at the outset, Kristel told an impressed Eugenie Sage.
“The seabirds literally land in this carpark,” she said. “We are trying to make the area a potential habitat.”
While funding to kickstart the Karioi Project came initially from Waikato District Council’s small community fund, Kristel said, there was an ongoing struggle for national funds – an issue which Eugenie Sage promised to look into.
The Conservation Department was set to “significantly increase (such) funds,” she reassured the group.