Pestival 2023 shares fun and knowledge 

Pestival - Eastern Bays 2023 celebrated volunteers’ and workers' dedication and hard work in creating an urban sanctuary in the Pourewa Valley.

A variety of interesting and fun events were held on Friday, May 19, and Sunday, May 21. Bad weather on Saturday forced the postponement of a guided bike ride and walk through Pourewa Valley and a nature photography workshop. These events will be rescheduled, so keep an eye on our website for the new dates.

Etienne Neho talking to the group about the māra kai and Pourewa Nursery

Pestival 2023 opened with a visit to the Pourewa Hub and māra kai (food garden) on Kepa Road, operated by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. Visitors gathered in the carpark overlooking the māra kai, admiring the extensive views across Pourewa Valley and taking in many Auckland landmarks beyond. 

Māra kai manager Etienne Neho told us that the views inspired the name Pourewa. A pourewa (platform on poles) had once stood on this highest point in the Ōrākei block so that sentries could have unimpeded views of the surrounding countryside. 

From our vantage point, we could see the circular layout of the garden, established so planting can be done in accordance with the Maramataka (Māori lunar calendar). It was also clear how much progress has been made in bedding in the gardens since they were officially opened in July 2021 to grow a sustainable amount of kai for the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei community as well as provide vegetables for food banks. “We love our nannies and our koro,” he said. “On harvest day (Friday) each week, we knock on every door to deliver vegetables and catch up with our people.”

Growth in the kūmara section looked particularly vigorous. Etienne said kūmara traditionally was so vital to survival that it was once “our currency”. “There was mana in storing enough to sustain the iwi year round.” These days, both men and women do the gardening, whereas once it was work for wāhine.

Microgreens are grown in a propagation house for posh salads. The cycle from planting to harvest is 8-10 days, and 100kg are produced weekly. “Our whānau feel quite flash harvesting those,” said Etienne.

Like gardens anywhere, the māra kai has to deal with pest insects and weeds, not to mention mischievous pūkeko, which pull out plants just for fun. The garden’s managers have stuck to their principles of not using chemical sprays (except for the sparing use of Neem oil) or artificial fertilisers. They use natural ingredients for fertiliser and mulch, including seaweed from Kohimarama Beach,  horse manure from St Heliers Pony Club, and weeds that have been composted by one of six methods. Etienne jokes that his dad is “chief compostologist”.

Kikuyu is one of the hardiest weeds they deal with. After being pulled out, it is put into black plastic bags that are tied off and left until it has rotted down; then it’s transferred to the hot composter.

Workers at the nursery and māra kai are happy to show visitors around and share their knowledge. Wednesday is volunteers’ day, so anyone who would like to lend a hand for a few hours would be welcome. 

Netting banded kōkopu in a stream and seeing the spangled light of glow worms spread across a bank beside the track were highlights of a night walk in Kepa Bush.

Sophie Journée and Ella Walmsley of Whitebait Connection led two groups of people, including some very enthusiastic children, on the walk, which descended into the bush from the track’s entrance beside #35 Thatcher Street.

Guided by torchlight, we walked carefully down the steep path and steps beside a freshly flowing stream, looking for signs of nocturnal life. There were many different species of spiders with large webs out, many wētā in tree holes and some people were lucky to hear ruru in the distance.

Where the stream pooled, out came nets on poles and both children and adults dipped them into the water. Soon there were excited cries of “I’ve got one!” as they scooped up one banded kōkopu and then another. These were tipped into a big white bucket for closer examination — and claims of “my one’s bigger!” — before being returned to the stream. 

The path got narrower from then on — time to turn around. There had been glimpses of small patches of glow worms on the way down. But as we trudged back to the top, we walked a few metres on a branch track and saw a bank lit up with the tiny lights of hundreds of glow worms. What a thrill! Who would have thought glow worms lived in suburban Kohimarama?

Earlier, Sophie gave a talk on the Mountain to Sea Ōrākei Marine Project that Whitebait Connection presents in schools. The project introduces children to local marine and freshwater sites near their schools to inspire environmental research and action. The children are trained to be skilled observers of the health (or pollution) of streams and wetlands in their area, inanga (whitebait) living in the waterways, and the human impact on them. They follow streams to where they meet the coast and observe the conditions of these outlet sites.

Children are helped to be guardians of a particular stream in their area and participate in planting, weeding and monitoring. A special part of the programme is a field trip to Goat Island Marine Reserve. A stream runs into the sea at the reserve and children can observe what a healthy stream and a healthy coastal area look like compared to their equivalents in urban areas.

Night walk through Kepa Bush Reserve

Awards for Moth Plant Competition

A total of 10,132 moth plant pods and vines were removed from public and private land in the Ōrākei Local Board area by children from 11 schools who participated in the annual Moth Plant Competition. At an estimated 700 seeds per pod, that’s a total of 7,092,000 seeds which didn’t get a chance to float on the wind and germinate in our gardens, schools, reserves and other land parcels.

The achievements of the 19 teams and individuals who entered were recognised at an awards ceremony held at Remuera Golf Club on the afternoon of Sunday, May 21. The teams ranged from pre-schoolers to primary and secondary school students. They recorded their pod counts by taking photographs and keeping digital diaries.

Ōrākei Local Board has funded the competition for several years. Local board members, and Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson, presented certificates and $3200 in prize money to the winners and place-getters.

In locating and eliminating moth plants, the young people learned how this pest vine smothers and strangles desirable trees and native plants and excretes a poisonous milky sap. Because its seeds are dispersed in the wind, removing the pods before they mature and burst open is vital.

Local Board members Margaret Voyce, Sarah Powrie, Angus McPhee and Deputy Mayor, Desley Simpson give out prizes for the moth plant competition. 

At the Pestival event on Sunday, May 21, at Remuera Golf Club, were informed and inspired by three excellent guest speakers: Professor Margaret Stanley (on her team’s research on birds in urban environments);  Jenny Holmes, acting project director for Te Korowai o Waiheke; and Tracey Parsons, Natural Environment Delivery Team at Auckland Council. Michelle Brinsden, Eastern Bays Songbird Coordinator, gave an update on EBSP’s work.

Regarding native birds’ failure to nest in urban Auckland because of predators, Prof. Margaret Stanley, who leads a research group in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland,  said cats and rats are responsible for most of the deaths, followed by possums. 

“New Zealand has the highest rate of cat ownership in the world -  44%,” she said. There are three to nine cats in every patch of bush.  When a 500 sqm property in St Johns was monitored by camera over eight months, 18 different cats were spotted.

“Love your cat — keep it inside,” Prof. Stanley said.   “We are behind Australia in this respect.” In the ACT [and in many local council areas in Australia], it’s mandatory to keep your cat on your property at all times [and to register and micro-chip them].

Professor Stanley said there are 17 native and endemic birds found in urban Auckland. However, their survival is threatened both by introduced predators and by the reduction in the trees they depend on for food and habitat.

Prof Stanley said it has been death by a thousand cuts in the urban environment. “Some suburbs like Grey Lynn have lost 35% of their trees in 10 years. Even when gardens are landscaped, they tend to have trees with mown lawns underneath rather than the leaf litter and ground cover that would feed birds.  

“Don’t be a tidy Kiwi,” she urged. “Stop chopping and get planting. Plant native ground covers and small trees like cabbage trees, which provide fruit and nectar. “ Let the leaves and bark stay where they fall to encourage insects, piwakawaka, and other birds that feed on them.  

Introduced pet birds were also a problem, Prof, Stanley said, especially parrots, which are sometimes lost or deliberately released because people want more colourful birds in the New Zealand bush. She said 23% of “lost” birds were lost as part of a group. To prevent these colourful birds from increasing to the point of out-competing native birds for food and habitat, the Auckland Regional Council pest management plan has banned the ring-necked parakeet, monk parakeets and rainbow lorikeet.

Professor Stanley advocated planting trees and encouraging leaf litter to feed birds naturally rather than installing bird feeders. By feeding birds bread and seeds you are encouraging sparrows and rock pigeons rather than native birds, which don’t eat seeds or bread. Prof. Stanley said that putting out sugar water for birds was also a problem. Water receptacles must be kept scrupulously clean, or they would spread bacteria, so don’t use open dishes that allow birds to perch on the edge. Instead of supplying sugar water in winter, Prof Stanley recommended planting native species that produce nectar, such as rewarewa (equivalent to the bottle brush) and kōwhai, Prof. Stanley said. [Harakeke/flax is another.]

Jenny Holmes

 acting project director, Te Korowai o Waiheke

— restoring our island song together

Towards Predator-free Waiheke was launched in 2018. Its current scope is island-wide stoat eradication, and it aims eventually to be the world’s first predator-free urban island.

It’s an ambitious aim. Currently, Lord Howe Island, approximately 700km north-east of Sydney, is the biggest populated predator-free island. It has a population of just under 400, allowing just 400 visitors at any time. Rakino Island in the Hauraki Gulf is predator-free but it has only 80 residents. 

Waiheke has 9,063 permanent residents, 9,200 hectares — and a million tourists (pre-Covid) a year.

We are lucky not to have possums on Waiheke Island,” Jenny said. “Stoats have been the main target for elimination because of the damage they do to the native ground and hole-nesting birds and other wildlife.”

Stoat traps are hosted on 350 Waiheke properties. There are more than 1,650 DoC200 traps spaced approximately one per 5.5ha. So far, they’ve caught 171 stoats and lots of rats and hedgehogs. In total, 8,743 pests have been taken out of the Waiheke environment. 

Trials of bait and traps have been held at individual locations on Waiheke: Kennedy Point, Ostend, Rocky Bay, and now Oneroa. The results and findings have varied in the different locations, but some of the interesting things that have been discovered are: