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Nursing native plants from seed to heal damaged moana

Featherston’s Pae Tū Mōkai o Tauira restoration group has become a recognised supplier of plants for Greater Wellington Regional Council’s [GWRC] biodiversity planting.

The rōpū [group] was founded in 2018 by a small team of women with a vision to make Wairarapa Moana healthy once more – after more than a century of damage and neglect.

The rōpū’s major projects have included establishing a native plant nursery to support restoration of the moana, and planting a large area with toetoe, flax and other natives on a no dig garden bed at Featherston’s Lake Domain.

Plants are grown from eco-sourced seeds – which are sourced close to where they are to be planted at the Wairarapa Moana wetlands and other areas of significance throughout the Wellington region.

As well as focusing on local restoration, Pae Tū Mōkai o Tauira now supplies plants to GWRC’s restoration services panel – responsible for working with mana whenua and community to restore natural areas through native planting.

“All the seeds go into trays and get put on the racks, then we wait for them to germinate,” Pae Tū Mōkai o Tauira co-founder Narida Hooper said.

“We kind of nurse them along. The last stage is the outside yard.”

The rōpū leases part of the old Featherston golf course from South Wairarapa District Council. With funding, it has renovated and extended the onsite sheds to form a nursery. The nursery is irrigated and bird-proof.

The renovated sheds are home to plant types including harakeke, mānuka and kānuka.

“We grow to order. It depends on the type of project – mostly it’s for biodiversity in the Greater Wellington region,” Hooper said.

Pae Tū Mōkai o Tauira has the vision to restore Lake Wairarapa and the surrounding wetlands. In the long term, the group members see monitoring fish life and water quality as an essential tool for this work.

Lake Wairarapa is currently in a super-trophic state [having extremely poor water quality] from excessive nitrogen.

“Our lake is our taonga, but our lake is also under stress,” Hooper said.

“The tuna [eel] out there are struggling to survive because there’s no oxygen at night. They’re gulping for air.

“We also know they are eating further down the food chain, shells and snails instead of little fish.”

She said this damages the eels’ health – so the lake’s chemistry has to change.

“Planting around the lake makes a difference, but it’s not all that needs to be done.

“Our generation are the only ones who can make change for the next generation.”

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