NEW ZEALAND – Almost two years after a rare remnant of forest was nearly destroyed by wildfire, thousands of new trees planted by volunteers are helping to bring it back to life.
In February 2019, the Pigeon Valley wildfire sparked by a disc plough in a dry paddock went on to become New Zealand’s third biggest forest fire, rampaging across 2343 hectares south-west of Nelson.
The fire reached the edge of the Eves Valley Scenic Reserve, a 28-hectare remnant of lowland beech-podocarp forest in a corner of the Waimea Plains.
Department of Conservation ranger Dan Chisnall who was heavily involved in the department’s response to the fire was unsure if the reserve would survive.
When they could finally access the reserve, Chisnall was relieved to find that while two thirds of the forest was burnt around the edges, and some large podocarp trees were singed, the bulk of the valley floor was fairly intact.
Nearly two years later, native plantings have form a buffer zone to protect the main reserve area, which is home to a popular short bush walk, from future fires.
Chisnall said the slice of forest was an important part of our natural heritage, a small remnant of what had been the Waimea Plains forest when the early settlers first arrived. It was home to podocarp and beech trees along with lowland broadleaf species like pittosporums and mahoe, some that were hundreds of years old.
“There are only a few fragments of that forest left, Eves Valley being one of them along with Snowden’s Bush in Brightwater and Faulkner Bush in Wakefield.
“It is incredibly significant and Eves Valley is quite special because it is a mixed beech podocarp forest.”
A few months after the wildfire, DOC came up with a plan to create a buffer zone around the reserve in order to protect it from future fires.
“It was mostly rank grass and brush weeds around the edges that carried the fire, what was quite obvious was where there was native vegetation that wasn’t on the hillside it worked as protection and slowed the fire down.”
Species that were naturally fire-resistant due to having less combustible oils in their foliage were chosen, with more than 6000 low flammability natives planted including broadleaf species like five-finger or whauwhaupaku and coprosma.
Much of the restoration work has been done by those on Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology’s Kaitiaki Whenua Trainee Ranger programme. The students adopted the reserve in 2015 and got stuck in clearing weeds from the eastern end of the reserve. They have since done the bulk of the planting work alongside other DOC staff.
Chisnall said it took time to propagate the number of plants needed, with the first big planting sessions taking place in June. It would take another few years of planting to restore the reserve.
Tasman Pine Forests, who own land adjacent to the reserve, supported the initiative and agreed to plant further back from the boundary, allowing for land to be cleared of gorse and blackberry so it could be included in the buffer zone.
Picton-based clothing company, The Paper Rain Project, Forest & Bird and the Nelson Hardpark and Sound-off Car Club all raised funds to contribute more plants to the project.