If you want to live in paradise you have to contribute towards it December 2020

One of the committed volunteers getting stuck in to weed removal

Story by volunteer reporter Cindy Borrie, Volunteering Northland

This is what Project Coordinator for the Whangarei Heads Weed Action Group, Kelly Maxwell believes.  She is proud that in 2019 their dedicated team of volunteers contributed over $100K of volunteer hours into reducing the weeds in their local community. Their goal is to stop the ongoing spread of invasive weeds spreading so all Northlanders can enjoy the unique natural environment.  

With a background in environmental studies and a passion for forest restoration, Kelly was drawn to their great community initiatives, vision and, for a small community group, the fact they punched well above their weight. “I also liked that as it was community driven it meant there was great buy in from the community.”  

The Whangarei Heads Weed Action Group supports landowners and community groups to access volunteers and funding to tackle the bigger problems on their properties and in their community reserves.  They also provide tools and advice, both face to face and via a comprehensive website, to individuals on how to deal with weeds. “Killing weeds can be easy if you know how and have the right stuff!” Kelly says.

Ultimately they want every resident to have “Weed Vision” so they can recognise the growing invasive weed threats at the Heads and do something about it. 

A good place to start is the “Dirtiest dozen” weeds on the website, these are the big forest destroyers.  Destruction of these weeds is promoted at relevant times through the year, the current campaign is focussed on flowering jasmine which spreads easily and smothers and kills all other plants and trees.  

The volunteer team meets to ‘tackle’ a particular area most Wednesdays and a couple of weekends each month.   Rick Hunter is one such volunteer who, after retiring, was keen to do something to enhance his local environment.  Working with like-minded volunteers from the Group he gets to make a difference while learning about the different plants that are around, “we don’t only talk about weeds we also talk about the good trees as well as all the insects and animals and the environment, he said.  

A major barrier to successful removal of weeds is they are often found on bordering landowners’ properties.  Landowners are on the front line of the weed battle and are actively responsible for halting the spread of many weeds to the rest of the Heads.  The Group has been acting as the focal point for large groups of landowners.  “This is successful as we get neighbours together, identify who is doing what, apply for funding if required, then support them, encourage anyone with barriers and work as a network to get the best result.” says Kelly.  

An initiative which has made a big difference is the Parua Bay Privet Buffer Project which aims to intensify the control of tree privet around Parua Bay to manage the southern spread towards Ocean Beach and the rest of the peninsular. The Group approached the Regional Council for funding on behalf of 11 landowners who agreed to match contractor control work with their own funds or effort.  In an area over 100Ha, committed neighbours and volunteers have made excellent progress in killing large seeding privet trees and reducing the seed burden for ongoing years.  This is the first year of a five-year plan so keep watching this space!

The group is always on the lookout for more volunteers with a passion for environmental restoration - from those on the ground through to governance on the Board - especially someone to help navigate the legal side of things and health and safety.  

As with many community groups they are also looking for people to help apply for grants for funding which is an ongoing issue.  Unfortunately, due to various reasons, some of their funding has been reduced or withdrawn. The work by volunteers over previous years has made a huge difference and they are keen to continue to  keep the beautiful Whangarei Heads weed free for all Northlanders to appreciate.

The Group wants to see weed control happening from the smallest backyard, to the slopes of Bream Head and Manaia.  

Rick encourages anyone to come along and volunteer.  “It is fun and no more hard work than you choose to make it, it gives you purpose and you get the feel good factor of doing something useful.  After a while you can see where a big patch of weed is now gone - like walking the Reotahi track where you can definitely see the change. The only downside is that I can now recognise all the weeds as I am driving!”

The Whangarei Heads Weed Action Group is one of a number of groups in the Whangarei region focussed on removing weeds for the benefit of the local community and all Northlanders.  If you want to get involved, contact Volunteering Northland on 09-945-4984, info@volunteeringnorthland.nz or visit www.volunteeringnorthland.nz