Weed war declared

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Gen de Spa in front of a large tract of cotoneaster in the Staveley Camp bush.

By Mick Jensen

Pest plants are getting a grip in a prized area of native bush near Staveley – but there are plans to repel the invasion.

Eradicating weeds and children’s environmental education are priorities in ensuring one of the last remaining areas of thick native forest on the Canterbury Plains is regenerated and enjoyed by future generations.

Native bush at Staveley Camp, a hidden jewel and nature retreat at the foot of the Southern Alps, has a QE II National Trust opens spaces covenant on it, but is being swamped by sycamore, cotoneaster and chilean flamecreeper.

Those quick-spreading pests, and the likes of barberry and rowan, are vying for space in the 10ha bush with kahikatea, totara, bush lawyer and other natives.

The pests are winning the battle at the moment, says Staveley Camp caretaker Gen de Spa, who is leading the effort to bust weeds.

The former paramedic and environmentalist “connected” with the forest during a stay there early last year.

“It is a special place and one of the last uncut, modified primary forest areas on the plains.

“But its survival is in real danger unless we make a concerted effort to clear weeds and to keep on top of them,” she said.

Ms de Spa said she was employed part-time by the Staveley Camp committee and had been able to rid small areas of weeds.

That effort was the tip of the iceberg.

“Clearing one weed away often makes room for another, so it’s an ongoing battle – and we need to win it.”

She had already completed 240 hours of weed control, with funding assistance from the QE II’s Stephenson fund.

Environment Canterbury had just agreed $54,000 of funding over the next three years for more weed control work.

“We need a sustainable solution for the future of the bush.

“One way the camp committee sees that happening is to get occupancy levels up, with camp income paying for the management of the forest.”

Ms de Spa said developing a school environmental education programme and hosting “hands -on” school camps were a big part of the future effort.

She was optimistic of multiple school bookings from term one next year and also of getting funding of $5000 from Ashburton council’s Biodiversity Fund, which would be used to show the reasons for the work in the bush and explain areas like pest control and monitoring to the children.

A collaboration between Staveley Camp and Mid Canterbury TimeBank early next month will give the public the opportunity to enjoy the “energy” of the forest and take part in weed busting activities.

Activities include cutting and weaving the pest cotoneaster into compost bins and making seats from pallets. There will also be star gazing and dance workshops and the option to stay overnight. More information on the November 3-4 event can be found at the website staveleycamp.co.nz.

The Staveley Camp is privately run and its ring-fenced bush has a number of walking paths.

The “sitting forest”, as Gen de Spa describes it, is a peaceful retreat and home to a pair of white-tailed herons, kereru, bell-birds and fantails.