Our last big tree planting effort

Since 2008, every winter at Project Rameka, we’ve been calling in the troops to plant out large swathes of abandoned paddock in native trees. Fifteen years down the track, we find ourselves running out of large areas.

In the last audit by Jonathan and Matt, it was hard to find areas large enough for a big group to spend time planting – they did, but only just. So, barring drought, fire or slip, 2023 marked the final year of mass plantings at the Rameka Carbon Forest! This is good news; it’s fantastic! It means our trees have taken hold; they’ve taken up the challenge, and many no longer need our help.

In future, we’ll be focusing on ’boutique’ planting of some of the more delicate, slow-growing climax species, such as rimu and matai, under the shelter of the workhorse species that are doing so well.

Bronnie standing in front of 2m tall totara planted in 2008/09
Bronnie standing next to some totara that were planted in 2008/09

So, the last week of August 2023, marked one final Herculean planting effort, with over one thousand trees being put in the ground. Thanks to everyone who grabbed a spade and gave the native seedlings a new home.

Some of the sites were challenging, as the first photo taken from a drone by Phil Castle shows. The rest of the photos are by Corrine O’Connell, who joined us for the whole week and did a great job on her first ‘conservation vacation’.

Thanks to: Paul, Max, Forest, Max, Rumi, Enzo, Amaru, Sam, Erina, Brett, Helen, Chris, Phil, Corrine, Nicole, Richard, Mark, Marie, Tony, Karen, Bronnie, Jonathan, Christian, Simon, Geoff, Ann-Louise, and last but not least Matt, who prepared the planting sites.

Planting out the steep spur on the 'north face'
Drone photo by Phil Castle of the Great Expectations spur site – we planted 600 trees down this spur.
A naughty kea chomped into a bike seat as soon as our backs were turned. Photo by Corrine O’Connell.
Planters in the sun on a steep site
Hard at work on the Great Expectations spur.
Planters placing plant guards around newly planted trees.
Infill planting on the upper section of the historic track. The soil was nice and deep.
Planting on Rata Spur
Planting on Rata Spur, so named because we planted a dozen northern rata there a decade ago, and in the last few years they have shot away. Bloody rocky in places!
And now on the Poplar slip site. Fingers crossed we don’t have another slip here – third time lucky!
weka among the newly planted trees
A curious weka inspects our work, looking for an easy snack.

Thanks to Corrine O’Connell for taking so many great photos. It was so interesting to see Rameka through a different lens.

A karearea comes home to roost at Rameka

Rameka was once home to the native falcon of Aotearoa, karearea. Locals can still recall the fearsome flyers chittering as they hurtled down from the bluffs along the escarpment.

karearea landing on tree branch
Karearea 80 photograph by Kurien Yohannan

Such sightings are long gone though, with clearance of native vegetation reducing the bird’s habitat and pigs, possums, cats and mustelids decimating both chicks and adults. But at Project Rameka, we’ve just reintroduced our very own karearea – one made from stone by local sculptor Jocelynne Bacci.

Sculptor Jocelynne Bacci

The sculpture is made from local Takaka marble. She weighs a tonne … well, at least 40 kg. And of course, we hadn’t chosen the easiest site to sit her on. It was going to take some planning to get her on site without serious mishap. Nicole helped out with the dummy run …

Nicole being pushed on the sack barrow by Jonathan.
Jonathan transported Nicole to site on the sack barrow first. We figured Nicole wouldn’t break so easily if she fell off.

Once we were comfortable our method could work, it was time to load up and wheel down to site first the plinth and then the marble sculpture.

Jonathan wheels down the sack barrow with Richard holding a rope from behind to act as a break.
When it came time to carry down the plinth and finally the sculpture, we used the same technique. Jonathan wheeled, and Richard acted as a brake from behind.
A rope and a safety rope helped haul the sculpture up to its final site.
We used a rope and a safety rope to help haul the sculpture up to its final site.

Jonathan and Richard held the karearea in place while Jocelynne guided her onto her spot on the plinth.

Jonathan and Richard hold the karearea in place while Jocelynne guides her onto her spot on the plinth.
Jocelynne guides our karearea to her new home.
Jocelynne and Bronnie sit behind the installed karearea.
Jocelynne and Bronnie take a breather after safely installing the sculpture beside the historic Rameka Track.
Mountain biker riding past the karearea sculpture
Wendy was the first person to ride past the karearea sculpture.

The next time you ride or walk down the historic Rameka track, remember to keep an eye out for our lovely sculpture – we hope she’ll be calling home more karearea to join her at the Rameka Carbon Forest.

Margaret’s patchwork cottage

Some things are worth the wait …

Photo of a car and trailer being directed up a grassy driveway.
Ricky drives the pieces of Margaret’s patchwork cottage up to the site.

Imelda Margaret Cahill passed away in March 2020. A year later, we received a call from her solicitor. Margaret had left a bequest to Project Rameka.

We knew Margaret would want us to use her donation on something really useful for the project, but there were so many things that could be useful. In the end, we decided to split it three ways. The first project was to build another sleepout that volunteers could use when they came to help. This would provide more space for people to have a bit of alone time in comfort.

Andy Cole standing on site to check the measurements for the hut
Andy measuring up the site for Margaret’s patchwork cottage.

We hired local builder Andy Cole to come up with a design that could incorporate Margaret’s love for children alongside the practicalities of a building that would have to stand up to strong winds, lots of rain, and the occasional curious kea.

Andy wasn’t that keen on spending all his days driving up to the project to build the hut on site. Instead, he came up, measured up, and then proceeded to build the structure down in his own backyard, making it in a kitset form that could be transported onto site on the back of a trailer.

And in early January 2023, it was ready! Ricky, Corina, Andy and a couple of mates dismantled the structure from Andy’s backyard (Corina had the forethought to label each piece as it was being removed, thank goodness) and drove the whole thing up to Project Rameka. Jonathan, Bronnie, Murray and Frida helped carry the floor and walls up to the site and reconstruct it.

Jonathan and Ricky holding up the sides of the cottage
Jonathan and Ricky held pieces in place while Andy figured out how to rejoin them all.

Then, over the next two days, they painted it to match the fairy-tale design Andy had envisaged. We think it’s exactly the kind of thing Margaret would have loved, and now many others will be able to enjoy as well.

Margaret's patchwork cottage all finished a painted
Bronnie in front of Margaret’s patchwork cottage (the MPC).

Tree Survey and Track Tickle Up – May 2022

On this trip, Bronnie and Jonathan were joined by Simon and Penny, with a guest appearance by Garth Baker. During our stay, we were joined by several Nelson and Golden Bay locals to give the lower half of Great Expectations some TLC. It should be running sweet now.

The weka certainly seemed to approve of our track work.
The weka certainly seemed to approve of our track work.
The intrepid track-work group. Chris, Paul, Bronnie, Louise, Bob, Eva, Marie, Garth, Penny, and Axel. Jonathan was behind the camera. Simon was counting trees. Johnny was on his bike somewhere, Mark and Glenda were still on the track, and Ricky and Corina had just left.
Now, let’s see… Chris, Paul, Bronnie, Louise, Bob, Eva, Marie, Garth, Penny, and Axel. Jonathan was behind the camera. Simon was counting trees. Johnny was on his bike somewhere, Mark and Glenda were still on the track, and Ricky and Corina had just left.
On this trip, we also released 1,000 seedlings from weeds and did a survey of all the climax species between 350 metres elevation and 450 metres elevation.
On this trip, we also released 1,000 seedlings from weeds and did a survey of all the climax species between 350 metres elevation and 450 metres elevation.
Thanks to everyone who joined us. Good times
Penny, Jonathan, Simon Kennett at work with the tree releasing.
Another interesting job done was a survey of over 500 beech and podocarp trees, mostly planted between 2009 and 2012. Here is a summary of results.
A figure showing size in centimetres on the y axis and climax tree on the x axis. The trees were: Totara, beech, northern rata, rimu, miro and matai. Totara was the main tree planted, but the few matai were doing really well.
What we discovered was that totara, beech and northern rata really need full light to thrive. If they were being shaded by other trees, then they weren’t growing. So we cut back a lot of pittos and five finger to create light wells.
Garth Baker standing next to a rimu that is twice his height.
Garth Baker admiring a rimu planted in 2010

Project Rameka Annual Report 2022

We’ve often described Project Rameka as a local solution to a global problem. The problem started with the industrial age and a new era in human civilisation that has been fuelled by burning an ever-increasing amount of fossil fuels. And our local solution – Project Rameka – started in May 2008 when Bronnie Wall and I bought 48 hectares of land in the Rameka Valley to create a carbon sink.

Project Rameka has grown since then: the area of land, the size of the trees, the number of native species. The track network has grown, too, and there are now 10 km of trails used by runners, walkers and mountain bikers every day.

But this track network is not only used for exercise. The local inhabitants are very lucky that the tracks are also regularly visited by kaitiaki or guardians. These guardians protect and enhance the environment at Rameka. They travel the length of the project, trapping introduced predators such as stoats and rats. They also control invasive weeds, like old man’s beard and banana passionfruit, which would otherwise smother native trees, and release young seedlings too. This important work has allowed native species at Rameka to recover and, in some cases, thrive.

Here is a snippet of a heartwarming report from two of these guardians – Fil and Albie Burgers – written on a hot afternoon just a few days before Christmas. After rebaiting all their stoat traps, they sent us an update, writing:

“We caught NOTHING, ZILTCH, ZERO. Plenty of birdsong, the usual riroriro [grey warbler], Californian quail, weka, a kereru, piwakawaka, korimako and several tui. There’s a favourite spot where we stop for a cuppa – the point where Great Expectations first emerges from the pines and there are beaut views across to Farewell Spit. We used to call it “Rat Corner” and set up five traps pretty close to each other as there was a plague of rats there. However, we haven’t caught any rats there for months and almost always see at least one tui there, very likely nesting nearby, so it’s now called “Tui Terrace”.”

Paul Kilgour (author of the memoir Gone Bush) is another stalwart trapper and often sends in reports of kea, weka, and kōmiromiro (tomtits) entertaining him, along with other animals such as mountain bikers and runners, who are having fun and enjoying the regenerating forest at Rameka.

Most of the traps have been replaced over the last year, thanks to GB MENZSHED and funds from the Ramaka Trust. The Trust earns money each year from the sale of carbon credits via EKOS, and many of these credits are actually sold to Golden Bay businesses who want to be carbon neutral and are keen to support a local project like ours.

“It’s all we’ve dreamed of” is how our pest control officer, Matt Shoult, recently described the progress at Rameka. Matt is paid to work two days a week at the project, dealing mostly to possums, pigs and invasive weeds. The results are impressive, and Matt easily reels off a long list of the birds he’s seen at Rameka, which include kea ripping into pine trunks for grubs and inquisitive weka stalking him all over the project. Matt also runs through a list of seedlings he’s spotted sprouting on the forest floor: toro, marble leaf, kaikōmako, mātai, kahikatea, porokaiwhiri (pigeonwood), lacebark and tōtara.

In some areas, however, long grass is too thick for native seedlings to push through, and they can’t get established. So, every year, we target an area for tree planting. Last August, 40 volunteers planted 1,000 trees, and the weather has been so favourable that virtually all those seedlings have survived – and thrived. The most common trees we put in the ground are puahou (five finger), akeake, makamako (wineberry), beech, toro and pittosporums. We also add in a few climax species, like rimu and miro, which live for centuries.

Looking ahead, the plan is to plant out the rest of the grassy areas, although some of these are extremely exposed. Our tactics will have to be well thought out, using the toughest species and tucking them in behind the shelter offered by previous years trees. This plan is likely to take another 10 years and 10,000 trees.

We will also need to keep on top of pest control, using the tools we have (DOC200 traps and bait stations) until more effective technologies emerge. Villains such as stoats, rats and possums would reinvade Rameka in a flash if we let our defenses down.

But right now, the local picture is looking great and is well supported by neighbouring initiatives such as Project Janszoon in Abel Tasman National Park and Project De-Vine controlling old man’s beard on a large farm opposite Rameka.

A global perspective

The global response to climate change has not been so effective. Earlier this month, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its sixth report on the state of the global climate. The report made it clear that without urgent reductions in greenhouse emissions across all sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will not be possible.

Current commitments made by governments of the world put us on track to reach 3.2 degrees Celsius by the end of century. In Aotearoa, that means a lot more droughts and wildfires in the east and a lot more floods and landslides, especially in the west. We will lose all our glaciers, and rising seas combined with more extreme storms will cause unprecedented coastal erosion. Understandably, scientists are becoming more and more frustrated at the lack of action.

The general message is that this is a ‘now or never’ moment. We are at a critical point in history, but it is not too late to take action. We can halve our emissions by 2030, but it will take more commitment from everyone at every level – individuals, businesses and governments.  

These IPCC reports are a compilation of thousands of scientific reports on all aspects of the environment, with contributions from around the world. They have been issued since 1990 and explain the science of climate change, as well as offering advice to policy makers on how to solve the problems we face.

Without a doubt, we are facing massive changes. If we don’t slash global emissions, then the changes will be forced upon us by extreme weather events, rising seas and ocean acidification, causing disruption to our civilisations and the ecosystems we depend on. Alternatively, we can face the challenge head on and change the systems that run our civilisations on our terms to proactively reduce our emissions and then adapt to the changes that are inevitable.

You can read the reports and summaries from the IPCC here at: www.ipcc.ch

Other rock-solid sources of information are NASA and New Zealand’s Royal Society Te Apārangi.

Looking ahead, locally

Meanwhile, back in Golden Bay, we can continue improving a small slice of paradise by planting trees and controlling invasive pests and enjoying the unique native animals and fun tracks.

In the last week of August (21–27), we invite you to join us to plant another 1,000 native trees.

We continue to receive generous donations, which pay for the trees we plant and the tools and traps that are needed for regular pest control and track work.

Last year, we also received a bequest from Margaret Cahill. Margaret lived up in Kerikeri and spent much of her life working as a teacher and then as a children’s book publisher. She never managed to visit Rameka, but she supported the project from afar. We intend to use Margaret’s gift to plant some trees and build another small sleeping pod for visiting volunteers. We have also commissioned local artist Jocelynne Bacci to make a sculpture of a kārearea, to be installed in Spring. This sculpture acknowledges Margaret’s love of native wildlife. The kārearea is a striking falcon once commonly found nesting in the bluffs of Rameka. We hope the efforts at Rameka can encourage it back.

The most important function of Rameka – carbon sequestration – is invisible. Every year, over 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide are silently sucked out of the atmosphere by the trees growing at Rameka. That’s the same amount as is emitted by driving a medium-sized car 5,000,000 km: trees really are awesome. In fact, our lives and the lives of all land-based species depend on trees.

With this in mind, I would like to acknowledge and thank the Rameka committee: Amy Thornborrow (secretary), Corina Ward (treasurer), Matt Shoult (pest control officer), Ricky Ward (multi-talented builder, fixer, weeder, etc), Paul Michell (Quiet Revolution Cycle Shop) and Bronnie Wall (organiser and blogger). These people are essential to Project Rameka, and I really don’t know what we would do without such a great committee. Thankfully, they have all agreed to stand for another year.

We expect that until the pandemic has fully passed it will be ‘steady as she goes’ at Rameka. If you have any questions or ideas that you would like raised at the AGM on Friday 6 May, please let us know, or pop along and see us in person. The AGM will be at the Senior Citizens Hall in Takaka, starting 7pm. We also hope to hear from other cycling groups in Golden Bay at the AGM.

All the best,

Jonathan Kennett

Project Rameka Incorporated Society Chair