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Students the bee’s knees

Volunteers at a recent working bee at Masterton’s Millennium Native Forest Reserve had their numbers boosted when a group of Wairarapa College students joined to help out.

Waicol student Wyatt Backhouse and five friends heard about the working bee from a teacher and decided to use the opportunity to hone their skills ahead of some tree planting planned at school.

“We decided it would be good to practice and get a good idea of the best way to do that,” Backhouse said.

“We also just thought that since it’s an area that our school uses for lots of science classes, it’d be cool to help out there.”

“It’s the first time we’ve had a group of young people come to help, with no teacher with them, just on their own,” Friends of Millennium Native Forest Reserve Society trustee Christine McDonald said.

The “lovely group of young people” got to work, planting 48 trees between them and clearing ivy from Kite Island, a man-made islet in the middle of one of the three lakes in the reserve on the corner of Pownall and Hillcrest streets.

Volunteers had been clearing ivy from the island – named after Merv Kite, a “leading light” in the early development of the reserve in the early 1990s – over successive working bees but the students “got pretty much all of it cleared. It would have taken us another couple of working bees if it hadn’t been for them”, McDonald said.

Access to the island on the monthly working bees is via the Friends’ very own “inter-island ferry”, MRS Stickman, a small boat that used to house Pak ’n Save’s fish display and was rescued from the dump by trustee Graeme Pearse.

The 5.5 hectare reserve was established on “swampy wasteland” in 1993 by Warwick Dean, a member of Masterton South Rotary club who had “the vision to establish an area of native vegetation as a community asset”, McDonald said.

“Pretty much all the development in the reserve – which is owned by Masterton Trust Lands Trust [MTLT] – has been done by volunteers over the years,” she said, with the Friends continuing the early work of Masterton South Rotary, which cleared the sites of exotics and pest species.

Opened to the public in 2008, the reserve has 2.5 kilometres of tracks, designed by Kite, that meander through native bush and alongside lakes
and lead to several picnic spots.

After nearly 30 years of assiduous volunteer effort, the site has changed significantly, McDonald said.

“When I started volunteering in 2008, as you walked around you could see the house roofs and the telegraph poles, so you could get your bearings.

“There were quite a lot of open areas, which are now pretty well vegetated. It’s maturing now, and there’s a lot more natural regeneration.

“In fact, we’ve had to put in ‘out’ arrows because the trees have grown so tall you can get a bit lost in there.”

Birdlife and aquatic life have also increased, McDonald said.

“There’s a lot of bird life. Fantails and tui are probably the most common. We’ve also got some wonderful little ruru [morepork] and, if you walk through the reserve at dawn or dusk, you can get within a couple of metres of them.

“We’ve got skinks and crawlies [kōura/freshwater crayfish] in the waterways and longfin eels in the lakes and creeks.”

As well as being always happy to see new volunteers, the Friends “desperately need a new secretary”.

The AGM of the Friends of Millennium Native Forest Reserve Society – tonight at 7pm at the Anglican Church of The Epiphany at 54 High St in Masterton – is a great opportunity to find out more about the reserve and how to help, McDonald said.

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