Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Conservation Volunteers NZ - Week 2, New Zealand

Monday 19th Jan

For our second week of volunteering we were heading back towards Christchurch through Arthur’s Pass to Craigieburn Park. We did a quick stop for provisions in Greymouth and then another stop for some lunch, food (and beer in my case!) in Arthur’s Pass.

Our old friend Long John was still prowling around looking for scraps of food:


For our accommodation we would be staying in an Education Centre used for schools groups. It was right in the middle of a beech forest with some great views of the mountains beyond. It also had some weird occupants inside:

Hey my armpit smells

What do you mean I fly like a girl!

What did I just hit!

When we arrived we were met by another Ray our contact who showed up in a rather unusual car for a ranger - an old VW beetle. Ray showed us around and then took us to where we would be working for most of the week - cutting down and pulling up small pine trees

First a bit of background. At some time in the 50's some twat in the then forestry service had the bright idea of planting some pine trees in areas of Craigieburn forest. They did this to try to stabilise areas of skree which they believed had been unnaturally caused by grazing of introduced animals. By the time they had figured out that the skree was perfectly natural and was supposed to be there the pines had natured and had their seed blown all over the valley below. Even then they did nothing until recently when pine trees started sprouting as much as 17km away for the initial site.

Ray's Beetle - not your usual ranger car.

They have now, finally, decided to try and tackle the problem. That’s were CVNZ come in - we were given the job of tackling a single side of one small valley.

So off we went in a totally haphazard way of cutting, lopping and pulling up any pines we seen - until Ray got us to stop and do it right. In order to catch all the pines - including the tiny seedlings we had to go up the hillside in a line as if we were searching for a body.

It was slow and methodical and pretty darn boring as well but it was the only way to be sure we got every tree.

The valley we were working in - this is where they filmed the Cronicles of Narnia!

Cutting down pines

Get out of the road DM!

DM Helping cut down a pine

Taz proving devils can climb trees

Alpine flowers we will be saving from the pines

Tuesday 20th
We worked all day Tuesday going up and down the valley cutting down any pines we came across. By the end of Tuesday I was ready to hunt down the bastard who planted the trees in the first place (if he was still alive!) and string him up by his short and curlies. Anyway by the end of Tuesday we had completed our first side of one small valley and we could stand back and admire our work.

The only problem with standing back and admiring our small valley was that we could also see the other valleys that stretched back up the mountainside and were all covered in pines! Ray had told us that they had a 3 year plan to eradicate all the pines in the area using various volunteer groups, rambling groups and contractors (for chain-sawing the large trees). I think he is living in wacky-baccy land if he thinks that. In 3 years time the part we were doing would be still sprouting pines from dormant seeds in the ground!

Wednesday 21st Jan

On Wednesday we were given a reprieve from the pines and went checking stoat traps instead. As I have already said stoats are a major problem in New Zealand and Craigieburn was no exception. The traps were placed every 100m just off to the side of one of the way marked tracks in the forest. We split up into 2 groups of 5 - one group taking the odd numbered traps and one taking the even numbered. In my group was me, Lukas, Sam, Karl and Sun. The other group consisted off Karl, Lisa, Sophie, Kate and Brecht.

What we had to do was quite simple.

1. See if there were any stoats caught in the trap
2. Check the trap works by setting it off
3. Check and replace any bait
4. Reset the trap

In practise it was anything but simple. For one thing each box had not one but 2 traps in it (to try to catch a stoat or rat which would come in to feed on the first one caught!) The second thing about these traps are that they are designed to snap a stoats spine in several places and as such are very strong - able to take a misplaced finger off with great ease.

To set the trap you had to pull back the mechanism using your fingers in such a way so that if it sprung by mistake it did not take your fingers with it. It required a lot of strength using your thumbs as leverage on the box. Once the first one was done you had to be doubly careful when doing the second one which was set up to spring in the opposite direction. In our group we each took it in turn to set the traps (except Sun) in order to give the others time to recover the feeling in their fingers from pulling the traps.

Checking the Traps

One dead Stoat

Which looks like its been grilled

Halfway through doing the traps we ran out of fresh bait to put in them so could not do any more. Instead we climbed up to the top of helicopter hill to look at the views on the valley below.

After coming back down from the hill we continued to check the traps but did not bother to reset them as we had no fresh bait. By the time we got back to the centre we had found 4 traps with stoats in them out of about 60 checked traps. I am not sure if this is a good or bad tally - but at least the traps are working.

Wednesday night was my turn to cook. This time I decided to make an old Irish recipe - sausages and champ! It was quite weird what happened - I did all the preparation for the champ by peeling the spuds and chopped the spring onions then started boiling the spuds. Sam had volunteered to make his special gravy but had to do a vegetarian version as both Kate and Lisa did not eat meat.

The spuds were half boiled when I started grilling the sausages (Lisa and Kate had veggie burgers). Then I boiled the spring onions in some milk (as per recipe I hunted off the internet!) The spuds were ready to be mashed which I managed to get Brecht to do. In the end I ended up doing nothing! Sam was feverously working on his gravy (which was not ready) and Brecht was frantically mashing the potatoes. All I had to do was watch and turn the sausages - It was great.

The meal went rather well (even though I say so myself) I am not sure what the Koreans made of my champ as they had probably never tasted it before. After dinner two cakes were produced as we celebrated Obama officially becoming President of the USA (rather strange as none of us were actually Americans) I did the usual thing of drinking my beer outside on the porch.

Thursday 22nd Jan
Back to the pines. This time we started on another part of the valley which had a lot more trees in it.

Heres the before and after pictures.


After - only another million or so to go!

The sun was belting down by this stage which made the work all the more tiring. We did manage to get a good bit down however although we did give up quite soon after lunch – it was just too hot!

Friday 23rd Jan

On our last day we tidied up the education centre and once Ray came back to take back the keys we made our way back to Christchurch.

It was there we said our goodbyes. Lisa, Karl, Kate and Sophie were all heading back to the North Island to continue with volunteering. Lukas was heading home to Germany. Me, Brecht, Sun and Karl were all staying in Base that night. Brecht was going to be heading back to Punakeiki on Monday with Sam to continue on that project.

All in all I am really glad I did the volunteering. I learnt a lot about what is happening in New Zealand in terms of conservation and met a lot of great people. The only criticism I would make is that I would have liked to see a proper plan for the pine eradication - I just got the feeling we were like sourcer's apprentices chopping up broomsticks only to see twice as many take their place - it was very disheartening. Still it’s a good reason to come back to New Zealand to see how things have gone.

Things I have learnt:/

Belgium is a funny country. Its made up of two sets of people who seem to have nothing in common and speak totally different languages and yet seem to get on reasonably well. Brecht is a Flem and can’t speak much French and Sophie is a Walloon and can’t speak hardly any Flemish.

Through out the two weeks when we travelled on the mini bus I sat between them and used my diplomatic powers to mediate between them (ok I stuck my oar in when ever I could – as in telling them about the Belgium sketch on Not the nine o’clock news which nobody knew about – young whippersnappers) I tried looking it up on Facebook but could not find it.

Sophie had problems understanding a word I said anyway (nothing new there).

Eg when I said the word Outside to her she thought I was saying something in Flemish like Ouut-Sede.

Mind you it wasn’t just me she did not understand. While listening to her Shrek 3 sound track she asked me to explain what they were saying in a certain song.

It sounds like ‘She is high’ or ‘Cheesy Buy’ She said – I do not understand.
I had a listen and was soon able to put her right – he is saying ‘It is I’

One intellectual conversation I had with the two Belgium’s (what are they called!) concerned how to say bands which have numbers in their names.

Eg Blink 182 would be said as Blink One-Eight-Two in English

But how would you say in French? Sophie said she called them Blink Cent Quatre-Vingt Deux but I argued that that translates as Blink One-hundred and eighty-two not blink 182. Apparently in Flemish its blink hondert en tween tachtig. Yes intellectual conversations indeed!

Animals I have seen:
Rifleman – Craigieburn 19th Jan
Bellbird – Craigieburn 19th Jan
Tomtit – Craigieburn 20th Jan


Facebook pics

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