Barbara Sutton always dreamed of working in conservation. When she made enquiries about it back in the 1960s in Canada, however, she was told that it was 'men's work ... not for girls!'

"Nowadays things are quite different, and it is very normal for a woman to have a career in conservation," she says, although she was only finally able to realise her lifelong ambition when she and her husband moved to Kerikeri around 10 years ago, and responded to a call for weedbuster volunteers to help out in Puketi Forest.

That was in 2009, and she has been volunteering in the forest, with the Puketi Weedbusters, under the guidance of DOC ranger Dan O'Halloran, around one morning a month ever since.

She is now very much in her happy place.

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"I just love it. It gets me to places in the bush you might not normally see, and there's such a great sense of satisfaction, getting rid of weeds and trees like wilding pines and replacing them with something that belongs there," Barbara says.

"One morning a month isn't a big commitment, yet it is making a difference, and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly native plants grow and beautify an area when the weeds are removed from the equation."

A lot of the volunteers' weedbusting work focuses on the public camp ground and amenity areas on the forest edge, making them places much more enjoyable for visitors.

They have battled gorse, wilding pines and Japanese cedars, blackberry, lemonwood/tarata (a native but an out-of-region transplant spread from old Forest Service amenity plantings), hakea, aristea and pampas.

Some sites within the forest are also targeted, focusing on cotoneaster and hakea, which were both originally spread by logging machinery, and pampas, which is spread by the wind to take hold on slips and tracks.

Barbara's work in Puketi Forest has also extended to other volunteer tasks, like kiwi listening and toutouwai (robin) surveying projects run by the Puketi Forest Trust Oho Mai Puketi (Awaken Puketi), an incorporated society and charity set up in 2003 to help with the management of the forest.

Dan O'Halloran says Barbara and other members of the weedbusters team have worked hard, getting weeds in a couple of their targeted sites under control, which means they only need to return once a year to check for new seedlings.

"I am really happy with this progress, and the weedbusters should feel very proud of the improvements they have made to these areas. It means we can move on and target other spots in the forest," he says.

The Puketi Weedbusters meet monthly, usually on the first Tuesday of the month, at 9am. Reinforcements very welcome. Email dohalloran@doc.govt.nz for more information.

Puketi Omahuta Forest is one of the largest contiguous tracts of native forest in Northland. Its 17,000ha features magnificent stands of kauri, including Te Tangi o te Tui Puketi, the fourth-largest living kauri at 50.9m (167 feet), podocarp and hardwood trees, and a rich ecological diversity including 370 recorded species of plants, some are found nowhere else in the world.

The forest is protected as part of Northland Forest Park, and is administered by the Department of Conservation.

The forest is also home to North Island brown kiwi, kukupa (kereru) and pied tits, although populations are much reduced and face local extinction without intervention.

Toutouwai (the New Zealand robin) were returned to the forest by the Puketi Forest Trust in 2009 and 2010. Small populations of both bat species also live in the forest.

The aim of Puketi Forest Trust Oho Mai Puketi is to restore Puketi Kauri Forest to a complete living forest, essential to the spiritual, cultural, historical, economic and social well-being of communities, and to maintain it for future generations in ways that are compatible with conservation values.'