Air force op­er­a­tion set up to pro­tect na­tive bush patch


The Royal New Zealand Air Force has got in be­hind re­cent at­tempts to look af­ter Gate Pa Bush. Most folk are un­aware that there is a tiny patch of im­por­tant na­tive bush, about three hectares in size on a ter­race above the Ran­gi­tikei River at Ohakea.

Em­bed­ded in the air force base, it is not open to the public (at least ca­su­ally), so it is up to the air force to take care of it.

This is a minute rem­nant (about 0.01 per cent) of a dry­land to­tara for­est that, ac­cord­ing to Alan Esler, ex­tended about a 100 years ago, in a great swathe from the base across the plains to Ron­gotea. A sim­i­lar patch (also tiny) of ter­race to­tara for­est can be found in Lin­ton. Called Wedde Wood, this is quite a lot damper than Gate Pa, be­ing close to the hills.

Gate Pa Bush is quite dry, with to­tara to about 70cm in di­am­e­ter (aged per­haps be­tween 300-800 years), emer­gent kowhai and matai trees, as well as hinau and kaiko­mako, and a range of shrubs.

It is fairly open un­der­neath, prob­a­bly be­cause of its dry­ness, and has hardly any ferns. This ex­treme dry­ness makes it vul­ner­a­ble to dis­tur­bance, with the hope that the air force can pro­tect it from fu­ture alien in­flu­ences.

Luck­ily, Cameron Bur­ton from Spot­less, the base en­vi­ron­ment man­age­ment team, has taken the lead, with keen in­put from air force

‘‘Cameron has di­vided the bush into 30 me­tre x 30me­tre grid squares, and in­vited groups of lo­cals to adopt a square or two.’’’

per­son­nel. Cameron has formed a team of bush guardians, who have set up Op­er­a­tion Green­leaf – with rigour and pro­fes­sion­al­ism, Cameron has di­vided the bush into 30 me­tre x 30 me­tre grid squares, and in­vited groups of lo­cals to adopt a square or two. Many of these now have keen care-givers who are tend­ing to the weeds (es­pe­cially Trades­cantia or wan­der­ing willy), clean­ing up the de­bris and mea­sur­ing and record­ing the trees, all in quite a mar­tially com­pet­i­tive spirit.

Re­cently the restora­tion pro­ject had an of­fi­cial open­ing by base com­man­der Nick Ol­ney, and Gate Pa Bush now has a brighter fu­ture. With the con­sid­er­able and on­go­ing ef­forts of the air force, this lit­tle patch of bush will be with us al­ways.


Ali­son Pick­ett, Cameron Bur­ton and Robert Martel­letti prac­tice tree-hug­ging in Gate Pa Bush, part of Ohakea Air Force base.

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