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What is a weed? Simply put, it is an unwanted plant. In a garden it is the grass that creeps in from the edges or the thistle that seeds near the tomatoes. These intruders steal water and nutrients from the desirable plants. If left unattended, weeds can grow so thick and tall that they not only block out the sunshine, but crowd out everything else and take over.
In a forest restoration project, any plant that is not endemic or native is considered a weed. The various weeds are often categorized into more or less pernicious degrees. The worst are those that strive to colonize the rest and form a monoculture of their own. There are the conifers–pinus radiata or Monterey Pine, Douglas Fir, Hawthorne, Sycamore, Gorse, Broom, etc. There are weeds that happily mind their own business however, and so are often allowed to coexist with the native species.
Weeds also come with legs, and these are usually called pests. Of all the pests, humans are the worst as they, for the most part, purposefully introduced all the other pests (more on this later), and they also burned and destroyed the forests, wetlands, riverbeds, lakes, seashores, grasslands, and scrublands in the first place, all so that they could raise sheep and cattle and plant crops so that more humans could come.
The problem now is that even if the humans all left, they have introduced so many other weeds and pests that things would never go back to the way they were before people came. All humans can really do is to eliminate the weeds and pests they brought in, and then try to live more in balance with the biodiversity that naturally arises.
Of all the introduced pests, the most damaging to the small native plants of a forest restoration project are the hares that will eat them right down to the ground and dig out the fertilizer around their roots, deer and goats that eat the tops out and can pull the whole plant right out of the ground, possums to some degree although these largely stay in the older trees if available, and pigs, which trample and root out anything fresh.
Because hares are quite active this time of year when the new grass starts to appear, there is a focus on eliminating them now before the multiply into a hoard that is quite literally out of control.
We at Camhannan follow a regimen of pest control precisely prescribed by a program specifically designed for this property by DOC (the New Zealand Department of Conservation) which involves trapping and poisoning possums, rats, feral cats, stoats, ferrets, rabbits, and mercilessly hunting them all down to the very last one. It is thorough, comprehensive, and radically effective.
Back in the Beginning, New Zealand was a “birds-only” community. Actually there was a mammal, but only one: the bat, in two species, long and short tailed. Humans came and were hungry, so they killed the large meaty birds, the mighty moa and the huge native eagle. But far worse, they brought with them either by design or accident, a blight upon the land, indeed, a curse upon life itself. The incorrigible rat came ashore and began beating the bushes for something to eat.
Now there were a number of birds that, given no four legged predators were running around on the ground, had given up certain normal birdlike things like flying and nesting in trees. Why waste your energy doing such aerial acrobatics when it’s far easier and a hell of a lot safer to just stay on the ground? The problem occurs when the four leggeds find you, and with the arrival of the rat the worst of the worst was suddenly among them. Now a rat is a veritable Weapon of Mass Destruction when it comes to defenceless flightless birds with a vulnerable nest full of tasty little eggs.
So of all the introduced species, the rat is the worst. Kill all the rats and you’re 75% there in terms of saving the primordial presence of New Zealand’s glory days. We spend a lot of time and effort fighting rats. Note that you’ll never see a rat on Camhannan. Not only do we keep their numbers close to zero, but even if we were overrun, you still wouldn’t see them. They are experts at hiding and avoiding. That’s why at the end of the day, poison is really the only way to really eradicate them. We use a second generation anti-coagulant that is essentially non-toxic to humans.
The invasive humans didn’t stop with just introducing the rat. No, they have this little impediment called a frontal cortex, a pesky piece of hardware that is probably first and foremost responsible for most of the world’s environmental problems. It almost achieves reason, but retains a myopic twist that seems to destine it to inevitably soil its own nest, to selfishly focus on satisfying its own needs at the expense of all the rest.
Why, why, why, WHY would they come to this incredibly pristine and untouched environ and instead of just marveling at its unsurpassed uniqueness, its absolutely astounding variety of unusual birdlife, its staggeringly beautiful and diverse array of flora… instead of just walking around in open-mouthed gratitude for the opportunity to have set foot on such a divinely preserved place, instead they tried to make it like home. So they released hares and rabbits like they had back on the farm in the old country. God help them, the Fools. This wasn’t England. It was New Zealand, and everything grows faster and better here.
Within a year or two they were overrun. The hares ate them out of house and home. The grass they tried to plant for their sheep and cows disappeared in a cloud of churning rabbits and hares. Gone.
So what did they do? No. They didn’t, you say. Yes, they actually used their frontal cortex again, unfortunately, and decided, because they were such poor shots they couldn’t kill them all, to bring in the stoats. Now back in whatever godforsaken country they came from, stoats would fly down the rabbit holes and kill as many as it could capture, so they thought it would work here. Unfortunately they forgot that the little helpless birds were far easier prey since they were squatting on top of the ground instead of down a dark smelly hole. So now there was another deadly predator of the beautiful New Zealand avians.
Next the wilding two leggeds needed something to keep them warm in the winter, so they brought in possums to kill for their furs. And these horrid pests really loved it here, becoming essentially a defoliation machine, devastating an entire forest if left uncontrolled.