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Building a sanctuary

Image - Craig LaxonWithout the landowners, without their support, we dont have a project, it’s as simple as that. They are the key to the success of this whole thing.

We have 23 landowners around the fence, and mana whenua that have land in and around the fence. As with anything of this scale, we sometimes have challenges. I have got full support of them all. It’s about earning their respect.

If the shit hit the fan and we had a major storm, I could call on any one of those landowners to help me with a digger or a tractor. They will assist with fence breakages and check out the water gates, the streams that come off the mountain.

I’ve been involved here since the first poles went into the ground, first as a track builder and then I started looking after the fence.

That means talking to the landowners, addressing any problems that may arise, managing access on their land, keeping the bush back from the fence, removing big dead trees so they don’t smash against the fence.

We average 110 callouts a year – the bush just keeps growing. We lose nine to 10 big trees on the fence a year. The response time is 90 minutes. If a tree goes through the fence there will be six weeks of traps and bait stations and intensive monitoring.

One night we got 12 callouts, it depends on the weather. It’s quite taxing. I used to run on adrenaline and now it’s fear. I used to like stormy nights, now I dread them.

We get a fence report every morning. It tells me eveything that is happening around the mountain. There is a surveillance wire, 47km of fence divided into 37 sectors, so if there is a breach we know where to go within a kilometre or two. Prior to surveillance, the checks used to be done by the volunteers, every day.

I don’t really get wrapped up in the lovey-dovey tree stuff. I was brought in to make tracks so I was in the bush with a digger. Twenty-five kilometres of walking tracks; 10 years, 10 summers of digging out the Wairere Traverse.

It didn’t really hit me till I started seeing the changes. We would knock off and have a few beers and hear the rats rustling on the forest floor. Now we will hear kiwi scurrying around.

You see the changes outside the mountain, too. I never heard tūī where I was living. Now they are what wake me in the morning. They are the first to get up and last to go to bed.

I like this job because it is massive. It is bigger than one person, it’s world class stuff, and it’s succeeding. When people come back from a walk they are blown away. It makes you realise you are involved in something that is pretty bloody special!