A large-scale forest, riparian and wetland restoration project in the coastal Otago region is giving truth to the old adage that many hands make light work.
For the Halo Project, not only does this equate to great outcomes for the environment and biodiversity, but a strong sense of community pride too.
The Halo Project received nearly $2 million in funding from Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service. The One Billion Trees (1BT) funded partnership project is working closely with landowners to fence and restore over 270 hectares of waterways and wetlands habitat and boost water quality in the catchments.
"What’s really exciting is, as our work has become more visible, other landowners have jumped on board with planting," says Jennifer Lawn, project manager.
"The effect of seeing one landowner doing something has ignited others, resulting in joining habitats together."
Now into its second planting season, the project aims to establish 270,000 plants over 3 years in targeted catchments to restore forest, wetland, and riparian sites, and at the same time train and employ 9 full time staff each year.
"One of the objectives of the project is to build capability in field staff. At the completion of the 3-year 1BT funding we will have employed and upskilled a wide range of people.
"Of the current crop of staff, we prioritised people who were unemployed or had lost their previous jobs due to COVID-19. They’re all passionate about conservation work and most had volunteered for the Halo Project before.”
The Halo Project has also been successfully working with Otago Corrections Facility (OCF) in Milton as part of Horticulture Training for inmates. The OCF recently donated 900 plants to the Halo Project and are currently propagating a further 4,000 tī kōuka (cabbage trees) and harakeke (flax).
"This project has created a real sense of manaakitanga for the inmates, and for us I think it speaks to the range of community that we are working with," says Jennifer Lawn.
The project has recently employed a dedicated volunteer coordinator due to the level of volunteers now involved with the planting.
"Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service is proud to be associated with the Halo Project," says Alex Wilson, director forest development, grants and partnerships.
"The project is delivering on its aim to inspire and work with communities to enhance, protect and connect with the landscape."
Jennifer Lawn says the team has gained a lot of experience planting in different conditions and environments.
"We are working in a variety of sites from the coast right up to forest gullies, so every site is quite different and the planting plans are specific to coastal Otago.
"But we have learnt so much and had lots of successes, reflected in a planting survival rate over 90%."
Critical to a high survival rate has been the use of cardboard plant guards, essential for protecting against winds and "our Pūkeko friends".
"It is just amazing that biodiversity is happening instantly. I was recently out on a site doing some maintenance and we saw Pīwakawaka (Fantail) on the trees that we had planted last year; on one site we saw frogs in plant guards . . . our planting sites are already being inhabited, it is awesome to see," Jennifer Lawn says.