In the early 1990s 22ha of undeveloped land in Howick known as Somerville’s Farm came onto the property market with a future residential zoning.  It then featured degraded remnants of ancient natural forest, a tidal foreshore in its natural state, a large area of weed-infested pastureland containing remains of pre-European Maori settlement, and steep, unstable topography much of which was eroding. 

Individuals and community groups in and beyond Howick quickly acted together in a successful campaign to persuade the then Manukau City Council to buy the land in order to make a public reserve. In 2000, with the help of Manukau Parks, the Howick Rotary Club commenced a programme of restoration planting at the southern end of the Reserve. At the same time, also helped by Manukau Parks, Forest and Bird’s South Auckland Branch started eco-sourced restoration planting in a central area. In 2002 the two groups together with the Somerville Rotary Club, joined forces as corporate foundation members of the Friends of Mangemangeroa.  Between them they made valuable contributions to the framing of the Council’s Management Plan for the new Premier Park.  The Society belongs to the Nature Space national network.

As a result of good relations between the Friends, the Rotary Clubs, the Howick Community Board and the Manukau City Council, public walkways have been extended and maintained, now by the Auckland Council, and stretch from Cockle Bay to Haley Lane. They are very well used.  A future link through to Point View Reserve is anticipated.  The most recent installations are significant seating areas and some permanent picnic tables.

Much of the Society’s energy goes towards implementing the Reserve’s 20-year Restoration Plan, which it helped to draw up.  It is an evolving plan, focusing on restoring ecosourced bush on erosion-prone slopes, protecting, buffering and sustaining the remnant ancient forest, reducing the dominance of pasture and providing a healthy habitat for native fauna.  In extending the walkway Council has acquired additional reserve land in the Mangemangeroa Valley, adding also to the need for restoration work.  

Every year Society volunteers collect seed from the Reserve which is distributed to volunteer growers to produce what peaked at 8000 plants a year.  Planting events organised during autumn and winter involve the Friends, Forest and Bird, Rotary Clubs, local schools, community groups, Auckland Council staff and contractors.  To date between six and seven hectares have been restored, with an estimated total of 70,000 plants.  Even though the larger-sized trees now being handled entail smaller numbers than for nurse crops, propagation is still limited by shortage of nursery facilities.

Pest control is carried out by professionals contracted to the Council, and the Friends have a role in monitoring this. Rats, possums and stoats are now rare. Ongoing weed control is shared by the Friends and Council’s contractors.

Learning is a continual process.  Looking to the future and with preliminary funding made available by the Howick Local Board, plans are being drawn up for an environmental education centre sited close to Somerville Rd.  This is intended to provide facilities that encourage visitors and local residents to explore the Reserve armed with the knowledge that will enable them to better appreciate and enjoy its historical and ecological values, values which relate also to the wider Auckland Region and indeed have national and global relevance.

Graham Falla                          February 2014