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Meet the people making a difference in the green heart of Birkenhead.

Learn about the Birkenhead War Memorial Park Volunteers.

What comes to mind when you think of Birkenhead? The Highbury Shopping Mall? Coffee shops? Rugby? The library? Well, what about native trees and birds? Green spaces? Native bush areas? Well, you’ll find all of these in Birkenhead War Memorial Park. Often better known for its sports facilities it also hosts significant areas of native bush and is home to many native plants and animals. But like many of our precious reserves it suffers from pests. That’s where the Birkenhead War Memorial Park Volunteers come in (or the BWMP Volunteers for short). Set up in 2017 by Stuart Barton with help from Pest Free Kaipātiki, it’s aim is to help protect and restore the native species found in this area by bringing local people together who care about their neighbourhood. They act as guardians, kaitiaki, for this part of Birkenhead.

Before and after photos of the area behind the cricket nets in the park, showing the restoration of native trees planted by the BWMP Volunteers.

Two ‘regular, irregular’ volunteers, as they describe themselves, Charlie and Nicki, come along when they can to the monthly working bees. They have both been involved since the group started over 3 years ago and keep coming back because they want to improve the area, whether that is by removing pest plants, helping planting, or picking up litter. They like to do a little at a time and enjoy taking out their frustrations on the weeds. Other volunteers (Jason, Karen, Les, and Philippa) have donated their time and effort controlling animal pests in the park, with three committed teams managing three lines of bait stations and possum traps. And their hard work is having an impact, with a noticeable drop in the number of pest animals and an increase in bird life.

One of the volunteers, Charlie, helps to cut down some of the Arundo (giant reed).

Volunteer Nicki helps cut down some Arundo (giant reed).

The group has regular restoration events, which might include native planting, removal of pest plants, litter picking, track improvements, or general care for the native plants. In July, to celebrate Arbor Day, they arranged the planting of 700 native plants, supported by Pest Free Kaipātiki, Auckland Council and Wildlands. It was well attended with 21 volunteers, new and old, turning up to help on the day from Northcote, Birkenhead, Highbury, and even Epsom. Stuart’s whānau, Linda, Malcolm and Lilah, came along too and also help regularly with the monthly working bees. Linda describes it as “Active relaxation”.

Volunteers planting trees in Birkenhead war memorial park
Volunteers turned up to help with the Arbor Day planting, getting 700 plants into the ground for future generations to enjoy.

So why do people come along? One volunteer, Lulu, said it was to "do my bit to help stop climate change. And give back to nature". Two of the youngest volunteers, Rebecca and Izy, decided to help out as part of their William Pike Award Challenge and said they wanted to step out of their comfort zone. The North Shore Tramping Club chose a different form of exercise this particular sunday with Imogen, Amber, Jo, Les, and Ewa, choosing a spade to go with their hiking boots. Together the volunteers made a real difference, getting these plants started for the enjoyment of future generations and to benefit the natural wildlife in this area of Kaipātiki.

Volunteer (Coral) standing and smiling with some planting equipment
Coral Helping out with the Arbor Day planting.
Stuart and his kids smiling with some spades
Sometimes the whole family turn up to help out (Stuart, with his kids Malcolm and Lilah)

Did you know that Birkenhead War Memorial Park is the site for some very interesting pest control? Two very carefully selected insects which only attack specific pest plants have been released in the park: An almost microscopic gall wasp which only attacks Arundo grass (the horrible giant reeds you see growing below the pump track) and a lace bug which only feeds on the pest tree Chinese privet. If you are lucky you may be able to find the tell-tale signs of these insects. On privet leaves look for small dots on the underside. On the Arundo look for a corncob-shape on the stem. If you see either of these, send us a photo or let us know where you saw it.

photo of a chinese privet leaf showing damage by the biocontrol agent, lace privet bug
Distinctive damage to privet leaves caused by the privet lace bug, released as a biocontrol for the invasive privet trees

Thanks to Stuart and his team of volunteers they are making significant improvements to the natural area. Do you live near Birkenhead? Why not join them?

When do they meet: 1st Sunday of every month, 10:00am (Check out their Facebook page for details each month)

What can you gain from helping out?

  • Being active and getting exercise

  • Learn more about native plants and animals or pests

  • Meet local people with similar interests - join a community

  • Live longer?

How can you get involved:

  • Turn up to a working bee, once a month or once a year - every effort helps.

  • Visit Birkenhead War Memorial Park and appreciate the native bush areas, wildlife and trees.

  • Report weeds you see there using the Ecotrack app

  • Pick up litter when you see it - be a kaitiaki for your local area

  • Contact us or the BWMP Volunteers group to find out more or to get involved in protecting native species in the park.

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