Thinking caps, gumboots & restoration: more questions than answers

Eyrewell field trip, Kanuka revegetation trial plots. Image by Sue Mcgaw
Eyrewell field trip, Kanuka revegetation trial plots. Image by Sue McGaw

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be on an Ecology ELLS (European Life Sciences) course run by Lincoln University. The course looks at “how restoration of plant communities can be used to resolve land degradation and contamination issues, through re-integrating biodiversity into human-modified ecosystems.” (ECOL697). This intensive two and a half week course allowed for a number of very interesting field trips. Now my mind is full of questions!

A group of eleven students, nine international and two New Zealanders, visited various locations on Banks Peninsula, Little River, Lake Ellesmere and local wetlands, Quail island, the Christchurch “Redzone”, forest remnants, such as Riccarton Bush, Lord’s Bush and the Cockayne walk, as well as the Mahoe Reserve, the Eyrewell forest area, and, the most interesting of all, the Punakaiki Coastal Restoration Project (PCRP) on the West Coast.
I learned from our lecturers, the other students, and the field trip experiences. Every day my head was filled with a myriad of questions. Not only ‘how can the issues at each site be resolved’, but ‘how can I apply this to my own projects’?

I have worked in the horticultural field for many years (I won’t say how many, as that’s a women’s prerogative) and for the past ten years or so I have worked more specifically in the native plant restoration and revegetation field. My favourite project is at Ohoka, preserving Astelia grandis and various other rare native plant species.

Astelia grandis seedling Ohoka 2016. Image by Sue McGaw
Astelia grandis seedling Ohoka 2016. Image by Sue McGaw

Recently, while doing the circuit of my favourite swamp, checking on the newly emerging Astelia grandis seedlings, I came across an old shingle pile which we had originally planted with Leptinella species and Poa imbecilla. Now it was transforming into a moss cover. I loosely call the project a “swamp”. This area of land was once a shingle pit, dug out about 1872 to provide metal for the Eyreton Railway Line. In the early 1900’s the area was of interest to an Acclimatisation Society. It was then fallow for the past 90 years or so. The area has many interesting fungii, orchids, ferns and Astelia grandis. But I do not know what is below ground or in the water. I would like to know more about the changes in flora and fauna. After the course I can recognize the benefits of formal monitoring. But my most recent observation ties back to our field trip to the Eyrewell Scientific Reserve, which was extensively monitored by Eckroyd and Brockerhoff. We also visited nearby dairy-farm conversion areas,  where Lincoln University Researchers have teamed up with Ngai Tahu Farming to research farming practices and land sustainability issues.  Rebecca Dollery is researching the “Merits of Moss”  in the  Eyrewell Scientific Reserve, under the existing Kanuka (Kunzea ericoides), and how this research can be applied in new revegetation planting.

I was very interested to see my own stony outcrop, once a shingle pile, then a fishing perch, then a stony pile at a swamp edge, then a covered green foliage mound,  and now transforming into a mossy hump.  I saw both Leptinella spp. and moss species in the Eyrewell reserve. So which came first on the stony dry soils? I know I can spray the European grasses on the dry paths surrounding the swamp, and they die, and then I am left with a lovely moss pathway. Should we be using a Leptinella spp. and Poa imbecilla mix as well in the research? Can we use the idea of grass with moss underneath? Do they co-exist and can we use one while the other establishes, spray it off when the new plantings get a bit older, and have a head start on the moss community?

Leptinella spp. or Moss. Which comes first in anew revegetation project? Image by Sue Mcgaw
Leptinella spp. or Moss. Which comes first in a new revegetation project? Image by Sue McGaw

These were some of many questions I began to think about. Quail Island raised the questions of remedial planting in frost pockets. The “Redzone” raised many questions of where to from here? Currently there are five major proposals put forward to the Christchurch people, including the Waitaakiri Eco-Project and the Eden Project. In my local area, the Amberley beach group is engaged in restoration. Based on my field trip experiences I wonder “Should we doing some monitoring? When we know what invertebrates are missing can we better plan our plant choices? Can we use the log debris as a resource, shelter and home for skinks?”

On the Punakaiki field trip the particular question posed to me was how do epiphytes become integrated into the new planting areas? I think many of the questions can be answered by observing plants in their natural habitat, how they grow and what are the companion plants. In the planning stages, plant selection and plant placement could well mirror the natural plant communities. For establishing epiphytes  I believe the answer lies in looking at the forest floor of the nearby forest remnant, looking at the forest edges and creeping material,  the hosts, and copying the process. Observation, careful planning, creating stages and processes over time. I think Rob Kennedy puts it

Conservation industry field day at Coes Ford 2014. Image by Sue McGaw
Conservation industry field day at Coes Ford 2014 sharing ideas. Image by Sue McGaw

well “Patchwork planting in time and space, create shelter and spaces, establish populations and incrementally expand“. He also expounds on “sharing knowledge, ideas and resources“, which is exactly the point of my blog which I’m working up to.


The field trips raised so many more questions for me. To answer some of them I have to leave my comfort zone of previous experience and go and look outside the square; not only research from learned institutions, but also to seek more information from people working everyday in the revegetation and restoration field, whether that be face to face or web links or some other means. Sharing pizzas and talking plants maybe. There is a lot of valuable information out there, but I don’t necessarily know where to find it. Because of the Eyrewell field trip I went to research the technique of using cut Manuka or Kanuka brushwood as an alternative in the establishment process, and in doing so found the Forest floor and Rob Kennedy links, both very useful sources of information.

My parting thought is this: “Lets link up”, closing the gaps between ideas, research and practical application. Whether it be we have our thinking caps and mortar boards on, or our wet weather gear and sturdy gumboots, can we find more ways to bring our ideas together?





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