I have been a member of Project Island Song for the last ten years (or more). I have always had a passion for native plants, so when I first joined the committee I worked alongside Rod Brown, helping to co-ordinate the replanting projects on both Urupukapuka and Moturua. Since Rod retired from the project I have taken on the planting of the islands.
Having worked in the nursery industry in Northland for over thirty years, I was able to share what I have learnt first-hand with growing native plants and trees. Early on, I found that trees grown in the open – rather than under manuka and kanuka scrub – grew faster, were healthier, and had no issues with sooty mould on their leaves – all factors that are hugely beneficial to their overall survival.
We now plant out the majority of our plants in open paddocks with kikuyu. Spot-spraying takes place in early March each year, followed by planting out in May, and the kikuyu keeps (nearly all) the weeds at bay, with weeds like moth vine being hand-cleared when necessary. Then over the following ten to fifteen years, once the tree canopy has been established, the grass dies out due to lack of light.
Sites with fertile soil are ideal for the new plantings. With the effort required of growing the plants, inspecting them for both plague skinks and Argentine ants, transporting by barge from the mainland, then carrying them to planting sites, it is satisfying to see the success rate climb to 99% in the last couple of years. The more difficult sites on the islands are left for the birds and insects to do the seed distribution. Trees such as streblus (Milk tree) and the coprosma species will seed within two to four years, while others will take longer, sometimes up to twenty years. This is expected, and with the islands having been rodent-free for the last twelve years, we are now seeing plants regenerating naturally throughout the bush.
The presence of the (introduced) plague skink on the mainland has forced some recent changes, and this year (2023) I did a trial of growing the trees for the autumn planting in a controlled environment. The plants were grown in pots on large timber tables with the table legs sitting in containers of water. This prevented any skinks from climbing up the table legs and getting amongst the pots where they might try to lay their eggs.
The experiment has so far proven successful, and with the plants inspected and cleared by the skink detection dog prior to being loaded and transported to Urupukapuka in early May, I am certain that the 2023 plantings are skink-free. For some years now the annual collection of plants taken out to the islands has been treated with paste for Argentine ants, as neither these nor the plague skinks are on any of the islands that Project Island Song focuses their planting and bird translocations on.
I would like to thank the team of helpers who assist with the plant production, spot-spraying prior to planting days, loading the DOC barge, and carrying the plants to the sites. Also, the many volunteers who turn up each year to help plant. Thanks also to Trees that Count for funding the cost of the trees, and Bunnings Kerikeri for donating the fencing material to keep sheep out of the planting site. The site in Urupukapuka Bay chosen for this year’s planting will keep us busy for another two years, with 550 plants going in the ground each year. This is the maximum number that I can manage.
The before and after images here show the successful outcomes of previous years’ planting. Plans are already in place for next year’s production and planting, and I look forward to seeing the plants flourish and grow in their new environment!