TOSSI – From farmland to forest

Solara Haslett and her whānau have toiled at Tāwharanui’s Slip Gully for three planting seasons.

Learning about the complexity and connections within ecosystems has taught me that nothing exists in isolation. If you want fish at the end of your line, you need native bees in your bush.

Since 2018, about 58,400 native plants have been lugged to Tāwharanui’s infamous Slip Gully and at least 16,500 volunteer hours have gone in to transforming old farmland into newly regenerating native bush. Whānau, school pupils, businesses, service groups and individuals have all done their bit, and now the new ecosystem will be left to get on with the job.

For many years, the gully was pensively stared at by progressive TOSSI committees and they wondered how they would ever knock the bast*rd off. I had only attended one Tāwharanui planting day before I encountered Slip Gully, and I didn’t know any better. Memories of sliding in clay during a thunderstorm, holding on to my hat when gales battered the peninsula and sweltering when the sun shone, all add to my sense of accomplishment.

Now, the distinctive blocks display successive years of planting and in the years ahead, I will witness the stages of regeneration. Tāwharanui has the advantage of pest controls and volunteers who remove invasive exotic weeds, but it is not a tightly controlled garden either. I am intrigued to see how it develops.

Can I expect to see endemic bees, some of the most critical and effective pollinators of native plants, including mānuka, kānuka and pōhutukawa? The tiny, ground-nesting bees are hard to see, they are threatened by more resilient honeybees and intensive farming destroys their natural habitat. Natural regeneration will depend on the vital but insignificant little critters and I will need to upskill to be able to find them.

I wonder if I will see nīkau and taraire self-seed when the foundation plants are a bit bigger? To naturally disperse the seeds of these endemic beauties, the bush needs birds such as kererū and kākā to eat the fruit and excrete the seed during a flyover. Long may Tāwharanui’s trapping programme and predator control fence reduce the threats of rats, stoats, ferrets, possums and cats from decimating the nests of essential endemic birds.

Will I witness an explosion of native fungi? Diverse displays of fungi in Tāwharanui’s older native bush suggests I will see endemic amanita australis and foul-smelling tūtae kēhua (ghost droppings). However, underground mycorrhizal fungi that are a vital root symbiont for most woody species may take some time to spread from established bush to former farmland.

Importantly, I expect there will be fewer slips that can send sediment into waterways and the ocean. Sediment is identified as a major cause of degradation in marine habitats, so cleaner coastlines will help improve everybody’s fishing success.