Awahuri Forest – Kitchener Park selected for Rā Rākau Tītapu

Awahuri Forest – Kitchener Park is one of 15 locations selected for the Rā Rākau Tītapu project, which will see over 100,000 native trees planted around Aotearoa to celebrate the Coronation of King Charles III.

Rā Rākau Tītapu is being led by Trees That Count Te Rahi o Tanē, in partnership with the Department of Conservation (DoC). Each location where the project is taking place will see a range of community, iwi and hapū, farming and environmental organisations undertaking ecological restoration.

A semi-swamp podocarp forest, it’s one of the last remaining places in the Manawatū where people can experience low land native forest. The Awahuri Forest – Kitchener Park Trust will be receiving approximately 7000 plants, which will be planted between now and 2024. There are 25 different species of native plants being used, due in part to the complexity of the forest and the terrain it is on.

A ceremony took place on Wednesday, 9 August, led by the trust Recreational Services, with support from partners Manawatū District Council, Jobs for Nature - Ngāti Kauwhata, Landcare Trust, Horizons Regional Council, DoC, and Ministry for Primary Industries.

“It’s an honour for the park to be selected for this project, and a testament to the work that the many partners and organisations have been doing to restore the park, which includes the recent purchase of a block of land for wetlands. The gifting of these plants is greatly appreciated and we look forward to sharing more with people about the work that has been happening in the park,” says Awahuri Forest Kitchener Park Chairperson Jill Darragh.

Manawatū District Deputy Mayor Michael Ford spoke about King Charles III and his love of conservation, and how the planting of the trees was a really fitting way to commemorate his coronation.

“He made his first speech on the environment in 1968, seven years before the phrase ‘global warming’ was coined, and throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s frequently found himself to be a lost voice as he called for a balanced approach to living. As he said himself in 2020, 50 years ago people thought I was potty. These days many consider him to be a thought leader,” says Deputy Mayor Michael.

The forest hold special significance to mana whenua Ngāti Kauwhata, and earlier this year they gifted a pou to the trust and the community that now resides in the area that will be developed into wetland. The pou signifies the various partners that have come together to help with the regeneration of the forest and restoring its health.

Ngāti Kauwhata recognize the importance of karakia in the process of planting. Just as doctors have their preparatory process when preparing people for surgery, Māori also have a process of preparing the land for planting. Karakia is a key part of the preparation required to bless the land and ensure that what is planted in the soils of Papatūānuku can succeed.

The Te Whakahaumaru te Whenua Team (Jobs for Nature) of Ngāti Kauwhata have been managing pest animal control in the park catching possums, rats, and stoats amongst other things. They’ve also been working to eradicate phragmites from the forest.

“I was involved in all the planting that was done on the other side of the Mangakino (Makino Stream) nearly 20 years ago. Looking at how the plants and trees are doing over there now, and seeing what we’re planting today, gives me hope that this place will be here for many generations of tamariki to enjoy,” says the Director – Environment and Infrastructure for Ngā Kaitiaki o Ngāti Kauwhata, George Metuamate.

Local schools were invited to participate in the planting through the AF/KP Trust education program. Local school visits are a common occurrence to the park, and students get educated about the forest, the unique and species of flora and fauna, and the work that is being done to help the forest regenerate.