Te Hōnonga a Iwi Restoring Rosedale Park’s regenerative approach to restoration makes it unique in New Zealand, says Auckland Council Community Park Ranger Dan Marrow.
He’s not aware of any other restoration project in Aotearoa using live compost inoculant to provide soil enrichment that will nurture new growth and discourage weeds and pest plants, rather than relying on herbicides or chemicals.
“It’s exciting to be part of a restoration using pioneering, innovative methods,” Dan says.
When North Harbour Hockey representatives, including board member Nicky Shave, approached Dan about a restoration project in the park, the abandoned, weed-ridden wasted land behind Hilton Brown Swimming seemed like an ideal site.
As part of his job, Dan engages with community groups working on environmental projects across the Upper Harbour, Kaipatiki, and Devonport Takapuna Local Board areas and he initially discussed a conventional restoration, using herbicides, with the Rosedale group.
But they had other ideas, wanting to rely on regenerative methods which included clearing the land with machinery and using soil restoration and volunteer labour to ensure native trees planted on the site would thrive.
“I was a bit sceptical at first, knowing how many people they would need to do what they wanted to do. They had to convince me the project was a good use of the council’s budget – and they did.”
The first hurdle was gaining landowner approval from the council for the project to go ahead. Because he was working with the community on the restoration, Dan was able to help fast-track the process, ensuring all council teams impacted by the project were consulted and were happy for it to proceed.
Mana whenua input is an important part of the process and Dan says Nicky and her project team have done a phenomenal job to engage Māori.
Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara and tangata whenua are primary project leaders, guiding the decision making, naming the project, setting the strategic direction and ensuring cultural safety. Local iwi blessed the land and the restoration and continue to consult on the work being done.
Once landowner approval was received, Local Board budget available to fund locally driven initiatives paid for the land to be cleared. Dan worked with the project’s regenerative expert Matt Cummings, from Untangled Landscapes, and the work was done with land-clearing machinery. It’s a more expensive exercise than relying on spraying but Dan was happy to invest in trying a new way of doing things.
“I believe in the methodology and this group’s ability to muster a workforce. The community is so invested in the project, they are not going to walk away and let it grow over.”
Dan also ordered 4400 native trees, eco-sourced from local nurseries. Eco-sourcing ensures the seeds for the trees come from the same ecological district as the planting site. It provides plants that are better adapted to the microclimate they will be growing in.
“We didn’t want to bring in seeds from Waikato or Northland – we wanted seeds that had honed their genetic diversity to be perfect for the park’s conditions.”
The buy-in from the local community – schools, sporting organisations, community groups, businesses and residents – is one of the reasons Dan and the team at the council are keen to support the restoration.
“One of our goals is increase community involvement and connect people to nature. I’m astounded at the integration Nicky has managed to generate. When you have that, there is more impetus for the project to succeed.”
By bringing in schools and young people, the project is educating a whole generation on regenerative methods and different ways of doing an environmental restoration, says Dan.
Comprehensive reporting and accountability for outcomes from the project volunteers, along with support from organisations such as Watercare and Ventia, also gives Dan good-news stories to take back to the Local Board.
With volunteers managing the aftercare needed following the initial planting, there is no further costs for council to maintain the site. But Dan will continue to work with Nicky, Matt and other volunteers to support the project and the planned expansion of the restoration.
Passionate about sustainability and with an interest in regenerative agriculture, Dan has been following the work Greenpeace and other researchers are doing with the dairy industry, helping farmers shift from intensive methodologies to looking at how they can restore the microbes which will improve soil and can increase yield whilst helping nature. If the same idea can be applied to restoration it is worth supporting.
“I don’t love the idea of herbicides - they only provide a short-term solution and don’t improve the health of the soil.”
But if they are used well, they can support planting projects and the reality is their use is more cost-effective and efficient when you can’t rely on a volunteer labour force, something Dan has to consider when deciding how to spend ratepayer funds.
Long-term, Dan hopes the Te Hōnonga a Iwi project will turn a weedy wasteland into an area of thriving forest within Rosedale Park.
He also sees the benefits of getting more local businesses involved – when industry players have a vested interest in the environment, they are more likely to adopt better work practices that will avoid negative impacts on the land and waterways.
Dan believes the pest-control work that is being done in and around the park as part of the restoration project will support Predator Free 2050, the national campaign aiming to rid New Zealand of rats, stoats and possums.
He also hopes the project will inspire other community and environmental groups, and Auckland Council, to adopt regenerative methods on future projects.
“A lot needs to come together for that to happen and it will require sources of funding from outside council.”
But if local councils, communities and businesses can work together, it is possible.