A group of Coromandel farmers is leading the charge against wild pines in otherwise pristinge places.
More than 34,000 wilding pines have been removed from Black Jack Reserve in Kuaotunu.
The work is one of nine wilding pines community-led projects in the Waikato to receive funding from the Government’s Jobs for Nature programme.
Kristina Pickford, a trustee of Kuaotunu Peninsula Trust, says the number of wilding pines removed from the 83-hectare site is testament to the threat they pose to the environment.
Kristina and her husband purchased land in Otama about five years ago, having moved from Christchurch, so she’s aware of the wilding pine problem in the South Island and was determined to address the problem within the Kuaotunu Peninsula.
“I could see that good work had been done in the area and learned that a couple of landowners had been personally funding wilding pine control in Black Jack Reserve since 2010.
“We got together and formed a charitable trust that has a range of environmental objectives, including the control of wilding pines.”
The trust successfully applied for Community Partnership Project funding of $375,000 from the National Wilding Conifer Control Programme for the project which is being administered by Waikato Regional Council.
The funding is for work not just in the Black Jack Reserve but also for wilding pine control at Matarangi Bluff Reserve and tracts of land between WhauWhau Beach and Opito Bay.
“I see pines as a massive threat to biodiversity,” says Kristina.
“They are everywhere you go, covering New Zealand. The Coromandel is blessed with quite a lot of native bush, but take some time to look at the land, what is disturbing is the sheer scale of wilding pine infestations.
Wilding pines are a fast-spreading pest plant that, if left unchecked, will take over more than a quarter of New Zealand within 30 years.
For this project, the trust worked with Rings Beach Wetland Group, Opito Bay Ratepayers Association and Project Kiwi Trust.
“There’s a lot of important, established and regenerating coastal forest that we are trying to keep the pines out of.”
Wilding pines are a threat to biodiversity and the primary sector because they can take over iconic landscapes, unique natural habitats and productive land.
“They’re also a fire risk,” says Kristina. “The Port Hill fires, just outside of Christchurch, demonstrated this all too clearly. Each pine tree is like a bomb the amount of fuel and energy they have. We need to keep them out.”
The majority of large wildings in Black Jack Reserve had already been felled and the National Wilding Conifer Control Programme funding largely addressed the regrowth which presented a threat to the gains made.
A young local crew hand-pulled and hand sawed tens of thousands of young wilding pines at Black Jack Reserve, and are now working at Matarangi Bluff Reserve.
Larger pines are being felled or poisoned from a helicopter, by specialist contractors, depending on what can be safely achieved.
Contractor Travis Boyd says it’s been a great opportunity for his crew. They’ve acquired various new skills and qualifications – for example, certification for GrowSafe, chainsaw use and tree-felling – which will open employment opportunities for them in the future.
“It’s been quite impressive to watch. They’ve been crashing through the bush, pulling out and cutting the smaller pines. They’ve built confidence and muscle; they’re a lot fitter than when we started.
“It is tough terrain and really hard work, but they’ve thrived – I am proud of them.”
The Government in 2020 allocated funding of $100 million over four years to expand the National Wilding Conifer Control Programme. This funding is managed by Biosecurity New Zealand, which is a business management unit of the Ministry for Primary Industries.
To date, around $1.3m has gone towards nine community projects in Coromandel and Taupō.
To find out more about the community projects go to waikatoregion.govt.nz/wilding-pines.