I attended my first volunteer work day at the forest in June 2006. I had recently retired from a forestry career in Rotorua and joined the Katikati Rotary Club. Trustee Campbell Babington persuaded me that my assistance was required.
I was ready to acquaint myself with native forest in the area. 40 new volunteers turned up to install the first 100 prototype home-made bait stations on the brand new string-marked gridlines which had been set out over the preceding weeks, over 180 hectares, by contracted polytechnic students.
We worked from a horse-float trailer, which was stored down Wright Road and parked in the (then unsealed) car park on work days. Much, if not all, of the forest was in a shocking state of decay, birds largely absent and undergrowth very sparse in most places. It has been estimated that at least 60% of the carbon stored in our formerly healthy forests has been lost to the atmosphere.
AFP founder Basil Graeme soon also commandeered me to help prepare several applications to the regional council and the Lotteries Commission for continuing funding. In 2010 I was asked to join the board of trustees and about a year later took over from Gordon Walker as Treasurer for the next six years. When our founding Chairman John Howard died in 2014 I agreed to act as interim Chair until I helped persuade Barbara McGillivray to take over, and I think getting Barbara on board was perhaps my best achievement as a trustee.
One of my last tasks as Treasurer was to pay the final invoices in early 2015 for the new kohanga (nest) designed by Basil Graeme. Having our own permanent ‘home’ on site was a huge step forward for the project.
The changes in our now 500 hectare project area have been significant and pioneering within our region. Like many other similar projects throughout the country we have demonstrated that it is possible to reverse the catastrophic damage suffered by most of our indigenous forests, which due to the depredations of rats, possums and stoats, no longer adequately protect our critical watersheds and waterways. We can expect that continuing ‘elephant in the room’ – climate change – will reinforce the need for much more pragmatic pest control, including browsing animal like deer and goats, over much larger such areas. If only we could generate the necessary political will!
We truly have “brought back (at least some of) the birds”. But our achievement is miniscule in scale and precarious. Restoring the biodiverse health of all these forests, including the huge quantities of fixed carbon involved, remains a monumental challenge of our Anthropocene era.
I have truly enjoyed being involved with the project and I am confident that, in retiring from the trust in 2022, I am leaving it in strong and competent hands.