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Contributed by Pat McLean, Wairarapa Forest & Bird (originally published in the Wairarapa MidWeek)

Tucked away in an isolated corner of the Wairarapa, near the confluence of the Ruamāhanga and Waiohine rivers is Taumata Lagoon, a large oxbow wetland that forms a nearly perfect circle. This hidden gem is bordered in parts by dense stands of native trees, mainly podocarps. These bush remnants are mainly kahikatea, with occasional matai and tōtara, plus a few tītoki, white maire and tawa. This kahikatea/podocarp remnant is reminder of the dense forest cover that once was here in lowland Wairarapa, and gives hope that forest and wetland remnants that still survive on private land, could be restored to form a regional network of habitat for our local native species.

A truly remarkable feature is the number of bird species observed at Taumata Lagoon during recent decades – over 50. Although many aren’t native, they fill ecological niches that natives could occupy again, with proper conservation effort. Even the rifleman/titipounamu, has been recorded there, a genuine surprise given its rarity. This provides hope that if titipounamu are clinging on, other species could be too, or easily could again. Wading birds make up most of the observed species, taking advantage of over ten hectares of lagoon, and the fish recorded here include longfin tuna/eel and the native and underrated brown mudfish.
About half of the lagoon is protected by QEII covenants on two separate titles. The first one has extensive forest cover and many of the willows encroaching on the lagoon have been removed. Sadly, the forested area is carpeted with the introduced weed Tradescantia which is suppressing the regeneration of ferns and other ground level species such as mosses. The other one is botanically a mess, although I doubt the birdlife is bothered by this. The willows are encroaching on the lagoon, the slash from the milling of a small pine block has been left to become covered in blackberry, and Tradescantia is spreading fast. To be fair, there has been extensive planting of natives as well.

The government’s National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity could offer a way forward for places like Taumata Lagoon. With some investment and expertise, these important forest and wetland remnants could become strongholds for precious native plants and animals. That’s why Forest & Bird, Federated Farmers, and other organisations have been telling the Labour Government they must, through the NPS-IB, put in place proper support for land owners to protect and restore natural areas on their land. Privately owned land is an essential part of the vision of bringing back native habitat that’s home to all the species that have nearly, if not entirely, been lost in the Wairarapa.

Weeds and pests have workable solutions, and forest and wetland restoration is an area that New Zealand leads the world in. Forest & Bird hopes the new owners of Taumata Lagoon will take pride in realising the amazing potential of their properties, and we hope Minister Shaw and the government will make resources available to help them achieve the environmental vision we would all gain from.

Rifleman/Titipounamu by Tara Swan

Photo: Rifleman/Titipounamu by Tara Swan