Saturday, 19 January 2008

Visit to the arboretum

It was a warm and sunny day on Saturday - perfect for the walk at the Arboretum with Forest & Bird Southland members. Vic Keen, longtime Otautau resident, guided us through the forest setting, describing the history of the place and current initiatives to revitalise it.

The land was originally owned by Alex McKenzie. But in the 1940s it was used for the war effort as a flax linen processing plant. The linen was sent to Great Britain to make parachutes among other things. Retting tanks and a single mens quarters once stood on the site near the large wooden building. After the war, the Forest Service took over the site. They planted many varieties of exotic trees to see which would be commercially viable for the timber industry. In the 1980s, Rayonier, a timber company, bought the land. Now it is owned by the Southland District Council and run by the newly formed Alex McKenzie Memorial Arboretum Charitable Trust.

There has already been work done to remove willows from the wetland area at the entrance of the arboretum, and Vic told us there are plans to take out some old poplars that are near the end of their life cycle. This will make way for more native planting. The secretary of the Arboretum Trust, Jesse Bythell, said the Lions Club will be doing the planting in May 2008. She also stated that the Trust plans to introduce more exotic trees as well.

Vic pointed out that the arboretum is habitat for many species of birds and freshwater fish. As we made our way through the easy walking tracks and wooden bridges, we saw piwakawaka (fantails) and riroriro (grey warblers). Kereru are there at different times of the year as well. Vic said that he's seen a NZ falcon but it's been a while. The wetland areas are visited by pukeko and ducks.

The waterway that runs through the arboretum is called Glenburn Creek. It is home to eels and is a breeding ground for trout. This freshwater koura (crayfish) is about 7 inches long and heavily camouflaged by algae and water plants.

During our walk we looked up at the big pines, most of them now over 50 years old, marvelling at their branches and beautiful cones. We came upon a stand of four 'monkey puzzle' trees Araucaria araucana, and spotted female cones still on the tree. The knowledgeable folks among us pointed out that these trees produce both male and female cones. The larger, rounder cones are female while the smaller, narrower cones are male.

Thanks to Vic for being our guide and to Forest & Bird organisers for letting me tag along. I really appreciated seeing the progress of the arboretum and hearing their plans for the future. This place is a great asset to our community.

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