Spring is a great time to visit this restored wetland, but it’s about more than the triumph of new growth over winter. It is testimony to the hard work of Anne Flanagan, initially, to save the land from housing development, and the ongoing efforts of many volunteers to replant and maintain the habitats (from sand dune to swamp) which make up the reserve. The city council bought the land in the early 1990s and employs a ranger to oversee the work. Weeding is probably the biggest job, the ranger told us. As the trees establish and drop seeds, the new seedlings have to be allowed to thrive.
After the showy brightness of our Springtime rose gardens, it takes a little while to retrain the eye and appreciate the variety and scale of native plants. Many of them are flowering, discreetly. This stream looks as if it is covered in some sort of algae, but it is a native fern which floats on the water. Close up, it is a complex combination of trailing soft roots and tiny fronds. The flag iris to the right, however, is not indigenous.
Mānuka is flowering (alongside introduced buttercups) and we saw the last area of original mānuka on the Canterbury Plains. Plants being re-established include totara, ribbonwood, lacebark, various coprosmas, kōwhai, mataī and kahikatea. Bees are about.
Many birds have chosen to settle here or to return each year. A recent one is the Cape Barren goose which has self-introduced from Australia. Since it was not brought to Aotearoa by humans it is considered a native species. Spoonbills, pied stilts, Paradise ducks, swans, little diving scaup, kingfishers, warblers and pukeko are some of the established birds. We stood on the bank of the large lake and watched short-finned eels cruising by, while Welcome swallows swooped low across the surface of the water to feed on insects.
Even though, if you look closely, you can see houses in the distance, this view all the way to Te-Poho-o-Tamatea (Port Hills) gives some idea of what it could have been like for Māori – before Europeans arrived with a different view of what land was for. I couldn’t help feeling sad for what we have lost, but hopeful too for the future of this place.
Acknowledgements: The walk was organised by the WEA. Our expert guide was the very knowledgeable environmental advocate Colin Meurk who humorously identifies with the mataī tree in its various manifestations (from a tangled mess of twigs to a giant of the forest) and finds it a useful metaphor of ‘patience and humility’ as he wrote in a chapter in Tree Sense which ends with this inspiring sentence:
We need to acknowledge now, before it is too late, the strong physical, political and spiritual links between trees and place-making, well-being, strength and power, alongside humility, steadfastness, wisdom, patient long-termism, sustainability, and kindness to people and the planet. Like never before, it’s time to think like a matai.Meurk, Colin D., ‘Think Like a Matai’, p167, Tree Sense ed. Susette Goldsmith, Massey University Press, 2021.