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Wairārapa Moana wetlands are going wild

February 13, 2024 February 2024 No Comments

By Martin Freeth, Trees of Martinborough

Wildlife is flourishing in the wetlands of Wairārapa Moana after three years’ intensive restoration work – and there’s more to come in 2024 and beyond.  Tens of thousands of new plants are growing vigorously, and already there are good signs of increasing bird life.

This summer, collaborators in the Wairārapa Moana Wetlands Project are taking stock of the progress made so far, and identifying sites for the next round of autumn and winter planting.  The project’s goal is restoration of water quality and wildlife habitat in and around Lakes Wairārapa and Ōnoke through mass plantings of indigenous species in adjacent wetland areas.

“Wetlands are obviously a great place to focus because of their role as ‘nature’s kidneys’ to filter water coming off the land,” says Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) biodiversity advisor Sarah-Jane Jensen.  “Progress is reflected in many ways including growth in wetland birdlife and over the past year, for example, we’ve been many more Australasian bittern, or matuku-hurepo, at Boggy Pond. It’s a nationally critical species, one step away from being extinct, so growth in their numbers is exciting.”

The project is a collaboration between GWRC, Department of Conservation, South Wairarapa District Council, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairārapa and Rangitāne o Wairarapa with active participation also by Kohunui Marae and Pae tū Mōkai o Tauira community group of Featherston.  The latter have nurseries that propagate and grow native plants from eco-sourced seed which is supplied for Moana wetlands planting. High quality seedlings are also being supplied by the Norfolk Road and Akura Nurseries.  

The wetlands include Boggy Pond and Wairio Wetlands, Lake Domain Reserve, Lake Ōnoke Shore, Kahutara Lagoon and Te Pouaruhe. (Wairārapa Moana, as a whole, encompasses these wetland areas, the lakes and land reserves around them, and the Ruamāhanga River.)

The project’s planting activity got fully underway in 2022 and over the two most recent seasons, an extraordinary total of 97,423 native seedlings have been planted.  This work has built on the longer-standing, valuable volunteer planting programmes of Ducks Unlimited and South Wairarapa Biodiversity Group at Wairio Wetland and Ōkorewa Lagoon respectively.

The Wairārapa Moana Wetlands Project has been supported by Jobs for Nature, the government scheme aimed at revitalising communities through nature-based employment after the Covid-19 pandemic.  This funding source is now closed and in 2024, the planting will be scaled back to around 20,000 seedlings. Predator eradication will continue being a key aspect of the project.

Jensen says great care has been taken by contractors employed under the project to nuture plants and to assess which species are best suited to each area. So far, kahikatea has been the most favoured species followed by harakeke, mingimingi and ti kouka, and thereafter toetoe, kanuka and ngaio.

Community planting days will become more of a feature of Wairārapa Moana restoration work from now on and Jensen says these have intrinsic rewards for those who participate. “After planting in a wetland, you can come back in only 2 or 3 years and really see the difference … everything is naturally so wet and diverse, and always ready to re-wild.”

  • Community planting day for carex sedge on Lake Wairārapa shoreline — Sunday 21 April.

Pae tū Mōkai o Tauira has propagated 6,200 carex cirrhosa – an endangered form of curly sedge which is indigenous to the moana – from eco-sourced seed and grown them at He Kōtare nursery.  Carex cirrhosa helps restore water quality and creates excellent habitats for fish.  A clump of planting on the shoreline will multiple over time with increasing benefit. 

People are invited to buy these carex for $5.50 each and if they want, to plant them out on a particular area of shoreline – details will be available closer to 21 April.  

If you are interested, please email pae.tu.mokai.o.tauira@gmail.com 

  • Citizen Science Kākahi Count – Saturday 10 February.

The call is out for anyone wanting to join the scientific work on Kākahi (freshwater mussel) – it’s the 10th annual Wairārapa Moana Citizen Science Kākahi Count.  The location is Western Lake Shore Reserve, 18km from Featherson, and the postponement date is 24 February.
Volunteers will carefully collect all the shellfish they find in designated areas of shallow water for these to be counted and measured by NIWA and GWRC scientists (with each precious piece of lake life then returned to its sandy home). The count is an important indicator of ecosystem health.

If you are interested, please email Sarah-Jane Jensen:  waiwetlands@gw.govt.nz 

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