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Locals supported to help preserve ecological treasure

Published: 7 December 2018

The Albert-Eden Local Board area is home to an area of lava rock forest described in New Zealand Geographic as "one of the rarest ecosystems in the world".

Once widespread throughout the Auckland region, today only 23 hectares of volcanic lava flow forest survive, which is less than 0.5 per cent of its original extent. The Epsom rock forest makes up around 3.2 hectares of this unique type of forest.

Albert-Eden Local Board has funded the restoration of some of Epsom’s rock forest since 2011, as well as remnants in Te Auaunga / Oakley Creek and Gribblehirst Park. The current five-year restoration programme has focussed on controlling pest plants and animals that threaten virgin lava rock forest at a site in Epsom.

However, some of the larger and best quality rock forest areas are on private property in Epsom. So this year the board initiated its Landowner Assistance Programme to support and encourage protection and enhancement of rock forest remnants on private land.

Local Board Chair Dr Peter Haynes says, “We want the community to help to protect this precious ecosystem.

"We encourage people living in this area to learn more about lava rock forest and the other biodiversity treasures that exist in our backyard, and how to care for them.”

Residents Graeme and Ann Hawkins' property borders on the rock forest and they are passionate about this special area because of the bird life it attracts. Over the years, they have come to know the landscape well and are supportive of all efforts to encourage residents to protect and conserve the forest.

“The forest is a fragile system that requires constant maintenance, exotic weed and pest control plus summer watering when necessary to enable it to survive – we’ve decided that’s worth doing on our land,” says Mr. Hawkins.

When the ecosystem is this rare, every beneficial action counts. As lava rock forest is a regionally significant ecosystem, additional support has been provided through Auckland Council’s Biodiversity Ecosystem Management programme.

The first stage of the programme was provided to properties around the Epsom rock forest in 2017. An ecologist visited each identified site to survey the rock forest, collecting important information on the health and ecological threats present.

Landowners were given the opportunity to join the survey and a plan was provided with specific advice for their forest patch. Support tools were also made available such as composting weed bags and a community weed bin, and Timms traps and snap traps for possum and rodent control.

Increasing the level of community knowledge and areas being restored and protected will help these important refuges for wildlife in the city such as native invertebrates, lizards, and birds including tūī, fantail, kereru, grey warbler, morepork, and even our endemic parrot kākā which have recently been spotted visiting the Epsom lava rock forest.

“If this ecological gem disappears, then we’ll never get it back. The local board is working with our biodiversity team to ensure that we don’t lose any more of it,” says Dr Haynes.