On the 13th July 2017, Kevin Hague, the CEO of Forest and Bird, visited the Forest. We used the opportunity to invite some of our key supporters for morning tea, and to hear an address from David Peters, the secretary and deputy chair of the Aongatete Forest Project, on behalf of the Trust.

The image above: Aongatete stakeholders gather at the kohanga to meet Kevin Hague (CEO Forest & Bird). From left – Hamish Dean (BOP Regional Council), Eddie Orsulich (Tauranga F&B and AFP), David Peters (AFP), Keith Pyle (AEOC), Basil Graeme (Tauranga F&B, AFP), Carol Radford (AEOC), Kevin Hague (F&B), Nigel Williams (AFP), Richard James (Tauranga F&B, AFP), Warwick Buckman (Waihi F&B), Jessyca Bernard (DOC) Kate Graeme taking photo (Tauranga F&B, AFP).

His speech follows:

First of all I’d like to welcome you all and thank you for coming. In particular, I’d like to welcome Kevin Hague, the Chief Executive Officer of our main partner in the project, Forest and Bird. This is Kevin’s first visit to the Aongatete Forest Project, although I understand he stayed in the lodge many moons ago. We’re using this opportunity to introduce Kevin not only to the forest, but also to our other partners in the project. The Project’s Trustees have Kate Graeme to thank for making this possible – we are lucky to have Kate working both with the Trustees here applying for funds, developing our education program and working with our partners in general; and working for Forest and Bird nationally, as vice chair of its national Board.

Its great to see representatives here from Forest and Bird Tauranga and Waihi, as well as our neighbours and friends from the Aongatete Outdoor Education Centre, who co-inhabit our patch of the bush. The Department of Conservation, who administer the forest on behalf of us all, is here today, along with representatives of the BOP Regional Council.

Our iwi representatives have sent their apologies as they can’t join us today, nor can our Chair, Barbara McGillivray who is overseas.

The 11 year history of the Project is very much one of partnerships. The Trust was formed in 2006 by Forest & Bird, Katikati Rotary and Ngai Tamawhariua , and since then we have had support from a wide range of local businesses, local government, service clubs and of course, individuals. This kohanga, for example was built in 2015 with funds from the Western BOP District Council and the Lion Foundation.

This year we are working on new development projects – for educational resources, to share with the Outdoor Education Centre, and on a deer exclusion fence, to protect a remnant stand of King Ferns, with funds from the Department of Conservation. Our bread and butter activities of intensive pest control are supported with funding from the Regional Council and we were pleased to recently receive news of a generous new grant from Forest and Bird.

Our mission here is to try to restore and preserve a part of the Kaimai Mamaku forest to demonstrate what can be achieved with effective pest control, and to show what we are missing from the rest of the Kaimais. The trees, ferns and other plants that are starting to thrive here again are either gone or going from much of the rest of these ranges. The birds, insects and frogs that have made our patch their home are rare outside the controlled area.

The sad truth is that our patch of 500h is less than 2% of this forest park. The Kaimai Mamaku is the largest tract of native bush in the northern part of New Zealand and it sits smack in the centre of almost half of New Zealand’s human population – around about 2 million people. Besides its natural beauty, the ranges deliver significant natural economic benefits, as a carbon sink and as a moderator of rainfall and runoff into both the Bay of Plenty and the Waikato. Without the forest on these ranges, the rivers and streams that run from the peaks to our harbour would be far more flood prone and deliver tonnes more silt into a harbour that has already had too much.

An important part of our work is to push for widespread pest control in the Kaimais, so that all of the rest of the ranges has a chance to recover fully and do its work effectively. With the best will in the world, volunteers like ours are never going to be able to provide the support required for such a project.

The formation of the Kaimai Mamaku Catchments Forum fours year ago was a huge step forward, as it brought together a wide range of involved and affected parties to work on long term strategic plans. Our project actively participates in the Forum, but thus far not much more than plans have been delivered, and I think a priority for all of us must be to see some real action come soon. As we talk, the forest and what’s left of its inhabitants are dying. We don’t have the luxury of time.

The latest round of Forum discussions has led to a proposal for more information gathering, communications and community engagement over the coming months – primarily to deliver the groundwork for the development of a plan for large scale pest control operation in the Kaimais – a job that was agreed to be one of the top priorities by practically every member of the Forum, in terms of preserving the Kaimais intrinsic values.

Lets get on with that job now! The Kaimais need some sort of kaitiaki body, possibly Crown plus iwi, or community trust led, (but quickly) to develop and implement an achievable and effective plan to educate the people of the BOP about efficient and safe means of widespread pest control;

and while the education project is underway, to develop strategic and tactical poisoning operational plans for the Kaimai Mamaku. A properly resourced secretariat of some form could get this happening quickly – and then move on to developing the other themes that emerged from the Catchments Forum Fora.

Hopefully, the public education program will be showing results by the time that permits are needed to conduct actual operations.

But for the sake of the forest, we have to see some real action come soon.

Now as I said earlier I am but a poor substitute for Barbara who would by now have brought your attention to what the efforts of our many volunteers have actually accomplished in our corner of the Forest. The recovery of birds, insects and plants here has been a revelation – the “return” of the riflemen for example – and it’s encouragement for our belief that recovery is possible, if we act soon enough. Barbara’s newly coined byline for the project is “Alive at Aongatete”.

So being here is really just an excuse for us to do a walk in the bush. We were hoping to take you for a walk to see the King Fern remnants this morning, but we don’t have a properly formed track to them yet (the fence is still to be constructed) and the wet weather makes the trip somewhat treacherous.

So at about 11am, we will instead take a walk on the Nature Loop to show off the interpretive signage that we and the Lodge placed last year as part of our mission to educate the public about the beauty of our forest. You’re welcome to join us, its about a 30 minute walk on reasonably level ground, but it will be a bit wet and slippery so you’ll need reasonable footwear.

In the meantime, please enjoy some morning tea and each others company!