THE WORKERS: Gaye Payze, Karlos Paisley, Rene de Jong, Jacquie Hughes, John Sherriff, Christine Gibson and Pete Gibson were at the first Whakatane Harbour Care Group working bee for the year, on March 20. Photo Troy Baker D8253-25

JUST a couple of decades ago anyone looking across the Apanui salt marsh would have viewed a weed-covered wasteland, the domain of gorse, pampas, honeysuckle, privet, woody nightshade, wandering willie and dozens of other pest plants.

The gorgeous wetland we see today between Whakatane Yacht Club and the Eivers Road boat ramp is largely thanks to a small group of energetic volunteers, mostly retirees, who say there is still much more that could be done with the area.

The Whakatane Harbour Care Group held their first working bee for this year on Wednesday, March 20.

Gaye Payze, who co-ordinates the group, which works closely with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, says the group meets fortnightly for working bees. These include weeding, maintaining bait stations for pest control, as well as the more fun aspects of care group activities, such as planting and keeping an eye on the many species of wetland birds that call the Apanui salt marsh home.

“There were 33 different species of weeds in the salt marsh when we first started. It has changed a lot, but there is so much more we would like to do. The more people we have the more we can do. We would like to cover a larger area, and it would be neat to get school groups involved. It’s such a great asset that everyone can enjoy right here in the middle of town.”

The native flaxes, bushes and reeds are home to a wide range of birdlife including, at certain times of year, many migratory species such as the spectacular-looking royal spoonbills that are there now.

Volunteer Rene de Jong, who has been with the group for more than eight years, says he has recorded as many as 120 species of bird in the marsh.

Another volunteer, Christine Gibson, says they have tried weekend working bees, but as most of the volunteers are older, retired people it was more convenient to meet during the week. “If we had enough people to make it worthwhile we would like to start a weekend group for people who can’t come on Wednesday mornings.

“People look at all this work that we have done and think it is the council that is doing it. But it is just all done by volunteers, and most of us are getting on in years.”

Much of the work involves pulling the kikuyu grass, which covers the bank, away from the marsh ribbonwood bushes so it can be sprayed with herbicide without damaging the beneficial plants.

The group meets at the McAlister Street car park for a one-hour working bee once a fortnight, on Wednesdays at 9am. If you wish to join and would like more information, phone Christine Gibson on 07 3078216 or 0211708464 or just head along to the next working bee on April 3.


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