The Trust had met the day before to finalise our health and safety plan. Joe gave his health and safety briefing to barracking from the deerstalkers who’d ‘been in here a million times’, then off we set off up the ridge track that possum hunters had marked.
Despite the deluge a month earlier, the forest floor was typical for beech forest on dry slopes – a covering of fallen leaves (and branches and tree trunks); but with a green sprinkling of tiny beech seedlings. It’s mid May.
As we climbed, we found more variety, with more and more podocarps and broadleaf trees. Big trees. Matai, miro, rimu, rata, hinau. Over four metres around the rimu trunk.
10 of us. The five Hutt Valley branch deerstalkers pulled the average age down from 70.
After an hour and a bit (Joe had said about 35 minutes), we rediscovered the exclosure plot, an experimental area established by the Forest Service (actually by Joe) in October 1984 to exclude browsing animals and assess the recovery of vegetation. A 20x20m fence, 1.8m high.
Joe reckoned that his colleague Sean Husheer would have been the last to visit and record the vegetation. That was 2004, 15 years ago.
We found the fence smashed by a fallen tree. The roots of a large rata growing out under the fence over the last 35 years had lifted the wire mesh off the ground. Both would have allowed browsing animals to get into the exclosure, although there was no obvious evidence of pig rooting.
Is there a gate, Joe? Naah, you climb over in the corner. Fence battens forming the ladder were nailed into the posts.
At a glance, the undergrowth was sparse. Inside the plot were three one-metre high mahoe seedlings. We didn’t see them outside the fence. Otherwise, little difference inside the exclosure and outside.
Clive disappeared to collect seeds. He’s been propagating native tree seedlings for years – notably local rata. On nearby Rata Ridge, he’s established a trap-line.
Joe, Mike and I marked out and re-identified the 9 intersects at 5m spacing within the exclosure – finding most of the 35-year-old aluminium pegs, numbered on orange permolat. We busied ourselves recording all plants within a shortish string length (1.14m long) from each marker peg. We checked these with what Joe had found in 1984.
We relocated the markers in the neighbouring control area, a second 20x20m unfenced plot with trees tagged (numbered) for re-measuring diameter a breast height.
Meanwhile the hunters and Roger were off in the distance chattering around the broken section of fence.
After a good hour-and-a-half Clive reappeared with a sack full of seeds and the three botanisers were looking for a drink. We gathered around the smashed fence. It was whole.
Gary had hand-sawed through the fallen trunk. They’d hefted it out of the way, using it to block holes under the wire mesh. Paul was winding a fence batten around the slack top-wire to tighten it up. Neil had a hammer. So did Brock and they were hammering a new batten across the break in the smashed one. Ted’s shoulder was providing stability. Roger was overseeing.
The big rata inside the exclosure measured 109cm in diameter, an increase of 18.5cm over 35 years.
Thanks for organising this Joe. Yeah, he said, always a good day in the Aorangi.