Caring for bush on private land

 Nestled against the hill with a backdrop of rimu, rata and kowhai is the Williamson homestead. For 50 years Derek and his wife Primrose have nurtured this bush along with stands existing on their property. They are amazed at the considerable growth which has occurred over this time.

The Williamson family bought the farm at the head of the Mangemangeroa Valley in 1950. The previous owners had made a living by cutting and selling firewood but the Williamson Family wished to pursue a more conventional use of the land and developed a dairy herd. For the first few years the cattle grazed on any land available including the bush understory. It took about 10 years until the family could get the bush fully fenced to prevent stock access. Of this fenced bush 25 acres has been deeded to the National Trust and a further 10 acres remains fenced to prevent stock entry. It is only in the last 15 years with the serious control of possums that Derek and Primrose have seen the undergrowth “come away”.

Derek recalled how the “rabbit” board in the 1960’s could get 500 possums a night along the Mangemangeroa Creek! Friends and family over the years have attempted to reduce possum number through shooting but it was the introduction of the poisoning regime which finally saw the possum numbers noticeably reduced. A consequence of this has been the flourishing, once again, of the bush understory.

Each month (except over winter) Derek lays bait for the possums and sets traps. He now places each bait in a plastic bag to keep it fresh and dry. He assured me that the possum has “no trouble ripping the bag open and getting the bait”. One interesting point that both Derek and Primrose had noticed was that some possums are more wary that others. One particular possum was not easy to catch and was decidedly bait and trap shy. As far as they know they have now caught him as the lemons on the lemon tree are no longer “skinned on the tree”

 Derek has done far more that just fence his bush, he has, sprayed the wandering jew and climbing asparagus, removed a variety of weeds and transplanted many seedlings. As well the natural bush behind their homestead has large rata, rimu, kanuka, kowhai, puriri, totara and taraire within it. These trees supply a seed source germinating among the roses. Rather than weed these out the Willaimsons pot them up ready for transfer to areas where revegetation is in progress. Primrose commented that “the native seedlings always seem to be near her rose bushes”. We decided that the fertiliser she uses for her roses must be a suitable mix for native germination!

Some of the natives have transplanted more successfully than others, in particular the kowhai prove difficult. In Primrose’s experience the puriri are the quickest growing of the native species that germinate in their garden.

 With the bush so close native birds are plentiful, Primrose believes that their number has increased recently. The tui come and feed on the camellias and the wood pigeons strip the leaves off the kowhai trees. These wood pigeon at this time of the year come in mass (of about a dozen) all performing their aerial acrobatics. Primrose observed, during the nesting season, one wood pigeon breaking twigs off the kanuka and carting them to the rata. In the rata Primrose watched her construct a rather untidy nest. Unfortunately the nest fell out of the tree!

 Kaka occasionally visit from Maraetai heading for the big rata and rewarewa. Also heard but not seen is the morepork.

Two species living in and around this area and of which Derek expressed concern because of their increase in numbers were the peacocks and Paradise ducks. The four original peacocks released by neighbours have now formed a mob of at least twenty while the paradise duck has 14 young ones.

 It is through families such as the Williamsons who had the foresight to protect stands of bush that we have a seed stock of native species from which to raise seedlings and re-introduce “lost” species back into the reserve.

As recorded in 2005