by Gerry Brackenbury (forest ranger)
Pukenui Forest/ Ngahere o Pukenui sits on a basement of greywacke rock. Greywacke is a hard, grey sandstone that was compressed deep in the ocean and has risen, leviathan-like, to be the sure foundation of this very important forest. Important, because it is the last surviving remnant of a vast and ancient landscape that was once filled with life, an endemic hot-spot on Planet Earth. What living life-forms are left, cling precariously, like a neonate baby bat, to its mother’s fur.
This last piece of living bush has seen the impact of human activity over many centuries, both in its exploitation and the arrival of mammalian predators. It is the impact of these two shocks that has left the forest bereft of its once rich wildlife. Pukenui Forest is the largest remaining area of bush in the Whangarei Ecological District and is described by the Department of Conservation as “having a high diversity of vegetation types (32), including some unmodified areas which support a number of threatened species”.
Huge, old-growth kahikatea, taraire and totara sit in alluvial terraces that are still home to long-tailed bats and, during the fruiting season once fed thousands and thousands of native pigeons, kaka and tui. Giant kauri trees, now long-gone, along with thousand year old rimu, puriri and rata demanded the respect they never got. Other plants of significance are several species of fern, rare hard beech, kawaka and the beautiful flowering carmine rata, beloved of tui and our native lizards that help in the pollination process.
Pukenui Forest could be described as an empty cathedral… tall, pillared, elegant with a spiritual quality, but essentially silent and without life. Gone, sometimes quite recently, are the birds that once frequented their ancient home. Kiwi, of course, down to a handful, robins, bittern in the surrounding wetlands, long-finned eel hanging in there and all three parrots now departed, including kaka and the rare, yellow-crowned kakariki. In season our native pigeons darkened the sky above the forest, but now severely reduced in number.
We probably have our unique long-tailed bat to thank for the fact that a new energy has been directed to Ngahere o Pukenui. Following a suggestion of flooding part of the forest for a dam, an ecological report commissioned by the Department of Conservation revealed the presence of important plant and animal communities, especially long-tailed bats. This put a halt to any flooding of the forest and generated a desire by many in the community to not only protect these taonga, but to bring the forest back to its former glory.
Click on the buttons of the interactive map to zoom in or zoom out or click on the marker to get driving instructions.
The Pukenui Western Hills Forest Charitable Trust is a relatively “new kid on the block”. The Trust was formed in 2008 after a reasonably long gestation period, but has made up for it since by achieving a number of important conservation milestones.
At nearly two thousand hectares, Pukenui Forest, along with the Western Hills that border Whangarei City, is a large and very challenging forest and the much needed pest-control programme was always going to be very testing. Also, the set-up costs were going to be reasonably expensive.
Fairly early on, the plan was to first set up a 200 hectare block in the forest that was going to be intensively trapped and poisoned. Then, slowly but surely, over the years, and as time and effort came on stream, the pests in the rest of the forest would be addressed.
The name “Ark in the Park” was inspired by a similar intensive-trapping programme in the Waitakere Ranges near Auckland. The success there has seen the return of kokako and hihi (stitchbird) among other rare bird species, etc. This has inspired the Pukenui Trust to do the same.
Basically, what is now over 220 hectares has been gridded every 100 metres and at each corner is a modified bait station that delivers a toxin that deals to possums and rats. The modified bait station is the brain-child of DOC officer Nigel Miller, who could see that bait was often being taken by the wrong target animal. His modified bait station has proved to be a great success and possums and rats have now been reduced to low numbers. Also being trapped in the AIP area are feral cats and stoats. Hopefully much of the wildlife that used to be in the forest will return. However, once you start a project like this, you can never stop.
All the above work will start all over again next Spring to ensure that all our hard work will not have been in vain.