Next year TOSSI reaches 20 years! It will be a time for celebration of all the achievements at Tāwharanui. A book was suggested to follow up on The First Ten Years written by Maggie Cornish, an important historical record of the establishment of the Sanctuary by a keen bunch of volunteers who were on a mighty learning experience. The title on the first brochures was You can make a difference. And what a difference volunteers have made, working in a comfortable relationship with Auckland Council. So what better time than during a Covid-19 lockdown, to reminisce, scroll through 75 newsletters, a 20-year library of Tāwharanui photos, and write another book.

My first observations are the huge number of people who have been involved, giving thousands of hours towards the TOSSI vision: “To create an open sanctuary where visitors can freely experience a representative range of natural communities that would have been present on the Tāwharanui Peninsula.” It has been a journey of change and learning.

In the early years, rangers loaded people onto the back of the ute to head down the Park to get a job done. And campers carried their food scraps to feed the pigs behind the workshop area. Those were the days when hedgehogs and rats ate ground-nesting birds and their eggs, and mustelids were probably rampant. A New Zealand Herald article from 1995, headed, Killer cats plague endangered birds, shows a young ranger, Maurice Puckett setting a trap at Tāwharanui to catch an elusive feral cat that was suspected of eating dotterel chicks. Although the first ten years were pretty much cat-free, sadly cats are still being caught inside the Sanctuary, as recently as a few weeks ago!
So the mighty learning experience took off! Twenty years ago I had not heard of brodifacoum, myrtle rust, kauri die-back, cloacal and faecal blood samples, sniffer dogs or Erysipelas (a bacterial infection that takahē get).
We were just coming to grips with digital photography and mobile phones, not even cell phones. Tracking tunnels, gin traps and DOC200s, huntsman cameras were all new words for me. I did not know of grey-face petrel, spotless crake, pāteke, Duvaucel’s gecko and believe it or not, I did not even know about New Zealand dotterel!
The wonderful thing about volunteers is that they find their niche, are happy to learn and then set to, working with enthusiasm and passion. We have certainly seen this in the TOSSI nursery as well as the thousands of people who have turned up to plant more than 300,000 trees.

“We don’t plant a forest, we plant the conditions for a forest to evolve,” says Senior Ranger, Matt Maitland. We are giving many gullies in the Park that opportunity.

One of the volunteers who stands out, is not only an engineer and builder, but an innovative designer and problem-solver. Roger Williams leads the small Thursday work team, who have upgraded Fisherman’s Track, the Māori Bay Track and then repaired it after a slip, as well as the track from the Lagoon to the South Coast. They built boardwalks in both Mangatāwhiri wetland and the Lagoon wetland. They have laid paths at the Vole Hole, inside the Information Koru and the Jones Bay toilets, and fixed sand ladders at Anchor Bay. They built a bird hide and wooden steps across the front of the Sanctuary Information Hut. They built a shade area for the bigger plants at the Nursery, and a shaded area for Nursery volunteers to lunch under. They have built a generator shed beside the woolshed, a takahē equipment shed, protection for cow trough floats, stiles, a shelter for storing timber, shelves for the chemicals cupboard, a storage rack for 50 spades, repaired most farm gates, and designed and built self-closing
pedestrian gates. They restored a crucial wetland fish pass and completed an extensive programme of remedial work to slow down water from torrential rain, to prevent silting of Waikokowai Stream in Ecology Bush. There is no stopping this team!

Those are the jobs that are visible. Nobody sees what the weed removers do. Over the years volunteers at Tāwharanui have removed woolly nightshade, moth plant, sharp rush, asparagus scandens, asparagus smilax, pampas, lilac shrub, broom, buddleia, tutson, lupin, purple groundsel, bone seed, periwinkle, ragwort, pines and privet. Only weeders can look back across gullies, bush margins, wetlands and dunes with the satisfaction that targeted weeds are absent.

To find out about the birds and how they are thriving in a Sanctuary that is a biodiversity investment for the future, please buy the book Beyond the Beach, to be launched at the TOSSI 20 Years Celebration in June 2022.

Alison Stanes