Date: 17 January 2013
Two determined pensioners have transformed a Far North reserve from a gorse-covered haven for possums into a lush love nest for amorous moreporks!
It's been seven years since Coopers Beach retiree, Gerald Messenger, had a yarn to his mate David Panckhurst about doing something for Taumarumaru, a Department of Conservation reserve at the Northern end of Coopers Beach, in Doubtless Bay.
Gerald approached DOC, and got an enthusiastic response from Kaitaia's Visitor Services manager at the time, John Hatton, who said that DOC could use all the help we can get.
So began a now almost daily commitment to look after the Reserve and all its various feathered and leafed inhabitants. Hundreds of native trees have been planted, and war declared on a variety of noxious weeds including gorse, tobacco weed, and the odd sneaky asparagus fern.
The reserve is also a danger zone for invading mammals thanks to a series of mustelid, possum, and rat traps. The past year's haul has included 36 possums and 35 rats, including a giant Norwegian rat caught last week.
"Since we started trapping in 2006 we've caught a total of 162 possums, 94 rats (including 9 Norways), 61 mice, 12 hedgehogs and 3 mustelids," says Gerald. "The bush is looking great with lots of seedlings coming up, so it's definitely paying off."
It's not just the trees that are benefiting from all the hard work. Of particular delight to Gerald has been a pair of moreporks that moved into a nesting box he made and erected last year.
"I was on holiday in Germany when my son rang to tell me that Morkie (the nickname given to the little owls by Gerald) had moved in. I couldn't wait to get home!", says Gerald.
The moreporks produced one chick, Morkie Junior, who is now almost fully fledged.
It's been a rewarding journey tinged with sadness since Gerald's great mate and supporter of the work, Dave Panckhurst, passed away just over a year ago in December 2011.
DOC's Community Relations Manager in Kaitaia, Carolyn Smith, remembers Dave as a humble man, who liked to "just get on with it".
"Dave was a stalwart of conservation who spent his retirement involved in all sorts of conservation projects, including helping out with the taiko project (the critically endangered magenta petrel) on the Chatham's."
But his main passion was Taumarumaru Reserve. A boardwalk over the wetland at the entrance to the Reserve is just one of his achievements.
Carolyn laughs as she recalls Dave's frequent visits to the office.
"Dave was persistent in his ideas to improve the wellbeing and enjoyment of the Reserve for the community. It was hard to say no to him!"
Gerald still misses his mate Dave, but he's determined to keep the good work they have achieved going.
"I sorely miss his company. We were a good team and worked in harmony. It just goes to show what a couple of old guys chipping away with a few tools can do. The main thing is having the time," says Gerald.
There's always plenty more to do, as winning the war on invasive pests is a long term commitment. Coopers Beach homeopath, Shelley Rademacher, trims back weeds around the trees when she can, and has erected a little sign to encourage people to take their rubbish home with them. Gerald is as enthusiastic as ever, but doesn't mind admitting he's happy to share the workload with any other like-minded folk who are keen to lend a hand.
"Bruce Collett helps me with the weed spraying when he can, but there's always work to do checking the traps, weeding and the odd bit of planting, although most of that's finished now."
If you have a bit of spare time and would like to help out at Taumarumaru Reserve you can contact Gerald on +64 9 406 2201.