There's a quiet battle being waged in the Kawekas, and it will probably go on for years. A group of volunteers are taking on a formidable enemy — the wilding pine.
"Wilding pines are as tough as 'forever chemicals'. Their seeds can lie dormant for decades before springing into life, to stifle native flora. As elsewhere across New Zealand, they are rampant in the Kaweka Range," says Wilding Pines Community Group member Julia Mackie.
The local effort springs from an idea created by this group of like-minded conservationists wanting to help the Department of Conservation with ongoing wilding pine control (primarily Pinus Contorta) in the Kaweka Forest Park.
Volunteers tackle smaller trees with handsaws, applying herbicide to stumps and using hand-pulling techniques on saplings. Their work is complementary to other ongoing pine control in the forest park, previously undertaken under the National Wilding Pine Programme.
"DoC allocated us an area near the lakes at Kuripaponga, which had larger trees aerially sprayed between 2019 and 2021, with ground control done by a contractor in 2020."
Julia says in the latest expedition nearly two weeks ago, members of the Napier Tramping Club were guided by Graham Leech, a member of the Hawke's Bay Wilding Pines Community Group.
Members Julia, Di Reid, Sue Martin and Alison Greer donned over-trousers to keep out the cold and wet and headed into the regenerating kanuka scrub.
"We planned to walk in a line together in a certain direction, but the terrain and scrub soon made this difficult. We kept within yelling distance though, with cries of 'I've got one, no two, no three'.
"We found wilding pines of all sizes from tiny seedlings to trees with a diameter of 15cm. Above that size, we GPS-recorded the location as they were too difficult to saw by hand."
The group bush-bashed through the scrub, finding occasional pines amongst it and often emerging into small clearings, where they found pines in huge numbers – sometimes 30 or more.
"Over lunch near the lake edge, we noticed how the native bush can quickly recover, if given the chance."
The day's final tally was 1300 pines. Since the battle began some months ago, the group's total kill has reached 4410 from 138 hours of volunteer time. These figures are reported back to DoC.
Group member Graham Leech says he can see a big difference since the start of the effort.
"Other parts of the Kaweka Range have been sprayed but are in desperate need of attention. Perhaps, in time, they'll get the Hawke's Bay Wilding Pine Community Group treatment," Julia says.
■ If you would like to join the campaign, or just learn more about it, contact Graham Leech at email@example.com or visit www.afoot.co.nz/conservation for more information and future volunteer dates. For more information on the Wilding Pine Control Strategy: https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/pests-and-threats/weeds/common-weeds/wilding-conifers/