Wakefield, a significant village in the colonial history of New Zealand, was settled early by country people from England - farmers, hop growers and sawmillers – and also the militia. It has the oldest still-operating church in NZ, and one of the oldest schools. Sawmilling, however, was the major occupation with vast swathes of forest being decimated for firewood and buildings. The few areas of uncut forest in the Wakefield district were those, ironically, closest to the mills – left “for another day” - which fortunately never came.
In 1998 a landowner adjacent to one of these podocarp remnants – Faulkner Bush, applied to Tasman District Council to construct a road though a corner of the “reserve” to enhance access to his proposed subdivision. A group of local people, horrified at the proposal, were even more horrified to discover that, contrary to local opinion, Faulkner Bush (and its near neighbour Edward Baigent Memorial Bush) were held by the Council in fee simple – not under the Reserves Act! The previous council had recognised the values of Faulkner Bush, a draft management plan had been prepared but no formal protection had been undertaken.
Very little active ecological management had taken place through the years, and weeds, including old man's beard, tradescantia, and yew (from the neighbouring churchyard) were rampant, despite ecologists having described Faulkner's as “a rich fragment of the original vegetation of the Waimea Plains”. Geoff Kelly, botanist and ecologist, and a some-time director of the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust, in 1985 classed Faulkner Bush as one of the two best examples of tall podocarp forest left in the rich alluvial valley bottom of the Moutere Depression. A Wildlife Service report had recorded Faulkner's as a Site of Special Wildlife (1987).
In a 1999 Council report, The Ecology of Faulkner’s Bush and Baigent’s Bush (Wakefield, Nelson), Geoff Walls & Dr Iain Campbell said Faulkner Bush was “among the most valuable forest remnants left on the wider Nelson region” – an “irreplaceable gem” .
This report recommended scenic reserve status and much better efforts for protection. Walls commented on the unsatisfactory state of the reserve’s degraded ecological condition recommending an active management regime, pest control, edge buffering, planting and ecological condition/trend monitoring, with a priority for encouragement of podocarp regeneration and better management of several species, including the regionally rare yellow flowered mistletoe (Alepis flavida); small leaved shrubs Coprosma obconica and Teucridium parvifolium, pokaka (Eleocarpus hookerianus), narrow-leaved lacebark (Hoheria augustifolia), climbing fuchsia (Fuschia perscandens) and the more common mistletoe, Ileostylus micranthus, along with the large podocarps that make this remnant dramatic – totara, kahikatea, matai and miro as well as, now, the only one remaining rimu.
What happened? The road went through, and in 2004 both remnants became scenic reserves.... and the Wakefield Bush Restoration Society Inc. was born.
Over the last ten years, every second Saturday of every month up to 20 volunteers “weed” both reserves. Many groups – e.g. Wakefield school pupils, the Kiwi Conservation Club; church and special interest groups, Scouts, and the wider community, have been involved in planting and “mulching” days. Society members have constructed fences, gates, bridges, walkways, seats, and paths. Wakefield School planted several hundred trees as a Millennium Project in 2000.
The Society works with the Parks & Reserves department of Tasman District Council, and has formed informal partnerships with the Nelson Caravan Association (focusing on Edward Baigent Memorial Bush), the Department of Conservation (Trainee Rangers Scheme with Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology), Wakefield Primary School and others.
Faulkner's has been visited by many “experts” including ecologists, limnologists and Council-organised specialists on field trips, and has been the venue for pest-trapping/weed species identification workshops. The Department of Conservation have assisted with weed species identification (and moth-trapping!); the Trainee Rangers (DoC/Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology) have constructed board walks etc. Ecologist Geoff Kelly still takes a close interest in both the on-going work of the Society and the health of both Scenic Reserves.
Local and passing visitors and school groups visit both reserves. The Committee recently commissioned an “art trail” with involvement of Wakefield School.
1. Formal protection – both Faulkner Bush and Edward Baigent Memorial Bush now classified as Scenic Reserves; nearby Robson's Reserve (88 Valley Road) classified as Scenic/Recreation (had also been fee simple). This took a good deal of tenacity.
2. Road through Faulkner's – unable to prevent – learned to “live with it” - the developer has been a member of the Society.
3. Water table – as this was once where the Wai-iti River meandered, the Society recognised early on that, without the regular input of water the magnificent kahikatea might not survive. This was confirmed by Dr Iain Campbell. Consequently, early efforts sought to retain moisture, with a weir constructed in the main stream (residential stormwater rather than “natural”), and planting flaxes etc to create a wetland rather than a “managed” stream. The developer was required to construct a dam in the upper area of Faulkner Bush. Test holes were dug on both reserves to assess the water table – indications are that trees are not getting enough from the water table or nearby Jimmy Lee Creek/Wai-iti River – more work is essential.
4. Garden weeds: deposition of waste appears to have completely stopped, despite weeds such as ivy, holly, tradescantia, stinking iris etc still being removed – along with the bird-distributed yew, old man's beard. A noticeboard contains information on weed species, events etc. Newsletters highlight specific weed problems.
5. Retaining volunteer interest: this is an ongoing issue with a natural people turnover, but over ten years there has been regular involvement of not just locals but others who come from some distance to take part – the lovely lunches may help! And the fact that most of the weeding work is only done once a month (although other work is done outside this time). Of course, favourable local and regional publicity helps.
Nominated by: Helen Campbell, Nelson/Tasman branch Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society.