Solway Reserve, at the end of William Donald Drive, is another hidden gem of the Masterton landscape.  However, like many of our urban native forest remnants, it was sorely neglected.  Pest plant species became established and Masterton District Council closed the boardwalk when it became unsafe for the public to use.  Now, a group of volunteers are working to restore the space to its natural beauty.  Michael Desmond, co-convenor of Friends of Solway Reserve highlights the joy that working on this small patch of bush is bringing.

After the announcement that the Solway Reserve boardwalk was to close in August 2023, my wife Joan and I met with Ian Osland, the Masterton District Council (MDC) Facilities and Open Spaces Officer.  Ian encouraged us to form a volunteer group with other like-minded people to become involved in restoring the reserve. which had become infested with exotic ‘garden escapees’.  We held a meeting and the Friends of Solway Reserve was formed.

Howard Evans began trapping possums and laying bait for rats in September 2023.  It wasn’t long before he had caught 33 and it has remained at that number since then. (That is not uncommon in urban bush remnants.  Possums are clever mammals and learn how to avoid traps.)

Nine volunteers turned up for the first working bee on November 2, 2023. The group started clearing the stream of arum lilies and ripping out a vast coverage of ivy.  We decided to meet on alternate Thursdays but soon it went to every Thursday because of our enthusiasm and the enormity of the task.

At first it was mostly clearing exotics like hawthorn, arums and ivy, but now Friends of Solway Reserve have begun clearing large patches of karaka seedlings which are smothering the smaller natives like totara and kahikatea. Sometimes the more common self-seeding, rapidly growing bush (such as karamū (Coprosma lucida and Coprosma robusta) is also cleared to provide more open space for ground level plants to get established.

Howard has been the main dedicated trapper, but three traps from Predator Free Masterton have boosted the group’s trapping capability, and in the last few weeks three hedgehogs and three rats have been caught. Several members of the volunteer group also have traps from Predator Free Masterton in their own neighbourhoods.

Odell Sugrue (Parks and Open Spaces Advisor) has been wonderfully supportive and has managed to get funding for Greater Wellington Regional Council to spray vast tracts of blackberry and other invasive weeds.  One of the best moments from a recent working bee was clambering into the centre of the bush to see the swathes wanga wanga (Pandorea pandorana) branches lying dying on the ground after being cut down by GW.  It was visible from Ngaumutawa Rd and Odell identified it back in spring, when its beautiful white flowers were adorning the highest canopies.  It’s an Australian native that had become rampantly dominant, cloaking and choking OUR patch so we’re all so excited to see it go, thus allowing our natives to flourish.

The plan for planting starts with the border of the entranceway win late Autumn, early Winter and at a later stage, planting along the western boundary will begin.

The boardwalk is still an issue and will be addressed in the upcoming MDC Long-Term Plan and submission process.  The boardwalk is a vital aspect of the reserve, without which it will be impossible for many people to navigate across the wetland to the centre of the reserve, the best place to see the spectacular mature kahitakea standing sentinel to the smaller trees.  The uniqueness of the reserve can only be seen in that area rather than on the margins.

It’s difficult to say how well the reserve is used but we’d like to do a survey of that in the near future.  From chatting with people, it is loved by all who do use it and it attracts people from other parts of Masterton as well as those who live locally.  It is especially important to manage Solway Reserve and keep it a place for people to go, with the growing population in the Solway area.  One issue is the lack of access from the north end.  The only access currently is from William Donald Drive.  A second issue is that the current main public walking track borders the new Solway Country Estate.  Soon we are to lose a substantial strip of that track which means we will be severely restricted in the amount of land and natives that we can enjoy for recreation until new tracks can be installed.

There have been so many great moments of our volunteering action so far, too numerous to single one out.  By far, it is the amazing group that has come with such passion to see this beautiful, unique taonga restored to see a resilient habitat for endemic flora and fauna to increase in number, variety, and quality, as opposed to struggling to survive.  Many of us are novices to this world of natives and we are all learning so much from the knowledgeable people supporting us.  It’s encouraging to also hear of what is happening in so many other areas of Whakaorioi and New Zealand.

The Predator Free movement is such a great inspiration, with hundreds of individuals, schools, community groups and neighbourhoods ‘chipping away’. At the same time new technologies are being developed to see the vision of a Predator Free NZ being realised by 2050.  It’s so exciting to be a small part of that movement.

Personally, I would never have dreamt that this task we have taken on would bring so many benefits and so much personal satisfaction.  It’s taking me right out of my comfort zone and I love every moment of it.