Posted By QEII National Trust | December 19, 2023

The Auckland Council Fund, administered by QEII National Trust, has been helping Mark and Loma Page make progress on a long-term restoration project on their 194 ha covenant just north of Auckland, near Wellsford.

As Mark and Loma see it, “The most effective environmental restoration is by private owners managing their own backyard. Ours just happens to be around 200 ha of bush.”

View of property with bush landscape
Hoteo Gorge landscape – supplied by Mark and Loma Page

Registered in 2009 and encompassing part of the Hoteo river, the Page’s covenant protects a wide diversity of habitats from riparian to elevated ridges and bluffs, home to rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum), tōtara (Podocarpus totara) and kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides), bird species such as kererū and tūī, native fish like banded kōkopu (Galaxias fasciatus) and even native frogs like Hochstetter’s frog (Leiopelma hochstetteri). Mark and Loma have seen kākā and kākāriki fly over their property and their hope is that one day these birds will stay.

Mark and Loma were successful in applying for the Auckland Council Fund for their project two years ago and since received further support from the fund as their restoration project has developed.

Pest control is a big priority for this project. “We use every cent of the funding to increase our ability to create, as best as we can, a pest free environment for native fauna and regenerating flora,” says Loma.

AT220 trap set up on a tree with three deceased possums at the foot of the tree
AT220 trap in use – supplied by Mark and Loma Page

The Auckland Council Fund provided funding for Mark and Loma to secure assistance from a conservation contractor. With the contractor’s help, they hope to get through a restoration/conservation wish list for the more inaccessible parts of the covenant: to map the east side of the Hoteo river on Trap NZ, develop tracks for volunteers, encourage youth involvement in conservation and to eliminate as many pests as possible.

The funding has also enabled the purchase of pest control equipment like trail cameras and self-resetting AT220 traps. “We have seen a reduction in possums and rats,” says Loma. “When checking a remote trap to find 13 dead possums under an AT220, when there would have been one rotting in a trap, is so much more effective.” Cameras revealed the presence of feral cats and other predators that Mark and Loma were previously unaware of and are now able to target.

Mark and Loma welcomed two students from Kingsway School to help as volunteers on their restoration project, providing an opportunity for them to learn about conservation and restoration as a potential career option.

Involving their family has also been important to Mark and Loma. Their children and ten grandchildren have a special relationship with the place. “They have a real love of the property and are keen to carry on the work we are doing,” says Loma.

Mark and Loma's daughter Becky checks a trap in the covenant
Mark and Loma’s daughter Becky checking traps – supplied by Mark and Loma Page

Like many properties, Cyclone Gabrielle arrived at Hoteo gorge in all its chaos in February of 2023. Mark and Loma described “general mayhem” that saw floods, slips, tracks destroyed and traps washed away, in many ways taking their restoration project several steps backwards.

The floods and slips caused so much water and silt in the streams and river that Mark and Loma even found banded kōkopu, a native fish, drowned. “This fish had been living in one of our streams above the Hoteo River and it was sad to find its body after a flood,” says Loma.

Drowned banded kōkopu fish lies in the mud
Drowned banded kōkopu following severe weather events of 2023 – supplied by Mark and Loma Page

These weather events prompted a slight pivot in the objectives of the project, with funds reassigned to cover repair of the storm damage with the contractor’s help.

Despite the setbacks, Mark and Loma have continued to press forward with their long-term restoration project. While they know this is a long game, they are heartened to see signs of the positive effects, a glimpse of changes to come. “The undergrowth is the most significant change,” says Loma. “From a mainly tōtara and mānuka forest to having a wide variety of trees emerging. The bush was there, just looking for a chance to grow without being eaten, dug up, grazed, or sprayed.”

kōtukutuku/tree fuscia in flower
Flowering kōtukutuku/tree fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticata) – supplied by Mark and Loma Page

The Auckland Council Fund continues to provide funding assistance to great projects and initiatives on QEII covenants in the Auckland region. This year, there have been some changes to the application process. “Anyone with a registered QEII covenant and plans for a project can apply for funding from the Auckland Council Fund at any time of the year,” says QEII coordinator, Emily Hall. “From here on, funding will be allocated on a rolling basis for a year-long project.”

“Application for funding has been simple and friendly to access,” says Loma. “It has been effective in causing me to think clearly about what we want to achieve and how. It has also given us a positive relationship with Council Staff.”

Applying to the Auckland Council Fund

The Auckland Council Fund was set up by QEII and Auckland Council in 2020 to support covenantors undertaking projects to protect and enhance indigenous biodiversity values on registered QEII covenants within the Auckland region. Since then, projects across the region have benefitted from support with all sorts of covenant projects, including projects like Mark and Loma’s.

More information about the Auckland Council Fund and guidance for applying can be found on the QEII website: The Auckland Council Fund | QEII National Trust