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Restoring Soldiers Bay: Celebrating a community's commitment to a significant ecosystem




The unique wetland ecology of Soldiers Bay has been under serious threat from a range of pest plants and animals. A long-term collaboration between Auckland Council, Pest Free Kaipātiki (PFK), the Soldiers Bay and Kauri Point Domain Community Group and the New Zealand Defence Force is working to restore this special area. 

 

Soldiers Bay is situated in the upper Waitemata Harbour on the coast between Birkenhead and Birkdale. The deeply wooded gully leading to Soldiers Bay was once called Tawhiwhi Kareao. This name refers to the kareao (supplejack) plant growing here, which was used to make lashings for waka. At least eight iwi have connections with the Soldiers Bay area. PFK is working on building relationships with iwi as their involvement is a crucial aspect of the mahi in this area and the wider North Shore. 

 

Soldiers Bay has one of the few remaining wetlands in Kaipātiki with a comparatively rare complete sequence of saltwater mangroves, salt marsh and brackish wetland. On land, there is a freshwater raupō forest, followed by a kahikatea-pukatea forest, and finally, kauri forest. The complex of reserves and private land surrounding Soldiers’ Bay is part of a major forested coastal wildlife corridor of some 150 hectares, taking in Kauri Point Domain, Muriel Fisher Reserve, the Kauri Point Defence Land around Onetaunga Bay, Kauri Point Centennial Park and the Chelsea Heritage Estate. 

 

This high quality, continuous tract of native vegetation supports a range of native forest bird species including kererū, tūī, kōtare (kingfisher), ruru (morepork) tauhou (silvereye) and riroriro (grey warbler). Importantly, it provides habitat for the threatened moho pererū (banded rail). 

 

Before starting this project, the wetland was choked with invasive plants like crack willow and honeysuckle. “An extraordinary number of introduced wasps were feeding on honeydew from the willows, and wasps are a huge problem for our native insects and even birdlife,” says Fiona Smal, Senior Restoration Advisor at Pest Free Kaipātiki. “The willow and honeysuckle have been significantly controlled, thanks to work funded by Auckland Council and the New Zealand Defence Force, and continuous efforts by the local volunteer group. There has already been a significant improvement to the wetland health. Wetlands can regenerate fast if we stay on top of the weeds.” 

 

Mary Stewart is a senior conservation advisor with Auckland Council. “We couldn’t have approached this project as individual organisations – it required thinking at a landscape level. This initiative has shown that if we work together, we can achieve great outcomes.” 

 

New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) land at Kauri Point is a part of a significant cluster of reserves, heritage sites and parkland. Art Polkanov (Land Management Officer North, NZDF) says, “the partnership approach is a key component of the effort to protect the biodiversity values of the area. The current pest control work appears to be producing very good results. With further joint planning and funding, more progress can be made in Soldiers Bay and adjoining areas.” 

 

A focus of the project has been surveying invasive species within the wetland, reserves and adjoining private properties to gain a better understanding of what and where threats exist. The project in its next phase will focus on equipping property owners with the knowledge and tools to effectively combat pest plants. This is also an opportunity to promote the significance of kauri trees, the looming threat of kauri dieback disease, and other vital wetland attributes.  

 

Next steps for the project include a call to interested people to form a volunteer team to monitor predators in the wetland. Stoats and hedgehogs may well be present, which are devastating to native wildlife. “There will also be rats, because rats are everywhere!” says Fiona. “We have not even started monitoring the mangrove environment, but we look forward to introducing this if there is community interest, potentially following the inspiring work Te Korowai o Waiheke are doing in this often-overlooked environment.” 

 

Auckland Council and Pest Free Kaipātiki will continue to support Soldiers’ Bay residents now that surveying has finished. The focus for 2024 will be on providing landowners with advice and access to equipment that can help with weed and predator control on their properties. 

 

“The dedication and contribution of volunteers and landowners has been impressive,” says Fiona. “We’ve been blown away by the level of interest from locals in preserving and protecting ecology. The collective investment of effort over the last few years has markedly enhanced the state of the wetland and surrounding area. There is still more work to be done and we are in a great community to see action in this space. It truly is a case where everyone can play a role to preserve and protect this special place.” 

 

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