Community & Environment

Community funds more than 19,000 plants for Waiwhakareke

From left to right: Hamilton City Council Community Planting Coordinator Gerard Kelly, Environment Committee Deputy Chair Sarah Thomson, Wintec Kaumatua Tame Pokaia, Hamilton Mayor Paula Southgate, Dr Kiri Wallace of the University of Waikato, Tui 2000 President Lynne Garnham and the Council’s General Manager Community, Lance Vervoort, at the 2020 Arbor Day commemorative planting at Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park.

Volunteers and Hamilton City Council staff will be busy wielding their spades this winter with more than 19,000 community-funded natives to be planted at Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park.

Tui 2000 Inc., a Hamilton community group formed in 1989 to attract tui back to the city, provided the funds for the plants, which were grown from seeds gathered locally.

In 2017, the group received $400,000 over four years from Waikato Regional Council and the Waikato Catchment Ecological Enhancement Trust for Waiwhakareke plants. Tui 2000 has raised more than $1 million for the Waiwhakareke project since 2005.

This year’s plants would normally have been planted by volunteers and schoolchildren in an annual event marking Arbor Day that attracts thousands of supporters. Arbor Day is traditionally celebrated in New Zealand on 5 June.

Arbor Day at Waiwhakareke could not take place due to COVID-19 restrictions on mass gatherings. A small commemorative ceremony was held instead, attended by Mayor Paula Southgate, Deputy Chair of the Council’s Environment Committee, Sarah Thomson, Maangai Maaori representative Norm Hill, and representatives from key partners in the Waiwhakareke project, including Tui 2000, the University of Waikato and Wintec.

The Council will hold community plantings at Waiwhakareke on 11 and 12 June with a maximum of 100 participants each day. Members of the public keen to take part in a planting session can contact the Council at parksopenspaces@hcc.govt.nz.

Tui 2000 President Lynne Garnham says Waiwhakareke has its roots firmly in the community.

“This wonderful, tranquil space would not be available to Hamiltonians to enjoy if it wasn’t for the hard work of a handful of dedicated people who, back in the 1990s, saw the potential to create a Waikato forest on what was heavily grazed farmland,” she says.

“And we wouldn’t be where we are now, with almost half the land restored, if not for the people who turn out in all weathers to keep the project moving and the partners who can see the vision.”

Tui 2000 is a founding partner of the Waiwhakareke project, along with the Council, the University of Waikato, Wintec and Waikato Regional Council. A Tui 2000 subgroup, Friends of Waiwhakareke, helps to coordinate planting, weeding and species monitoring in the park.

Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park is a 65.5 hectare “urban island” on the outskirts of Hamilton. Established in 2004, it is gradually being reconstructed from farmland to a pre-European state. Waiwhakareke is owned and managed by Hamilton City Council and is the city’s flagship biodiversity project.

The park opened to the public in November 2019 after the Council installed a track around the lake and wetlands, a public toilet and viewing platforms.

Around half of the park remains to be planted, and this work could be accelerated if a proposal for Government COVID-19 stimulus funding to create a shared entrance to Hamilton Zoo and Waiwhakareke is successful. The project will showcase two world-class visitor attractions dedicated to conservation – one of endangered animals and the other of indigenous flora and fauna.

Development of Waiwhakareke is overseen by an advisory group led by renowned ecological restoration expert Professor Bruce Clarkson, the University of Waikato’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research.

For more information on Waiwhakareke, click here.

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