City gullies worth the labour
Three thousand properties border the Hamilton gully system. It’s a big number, but you can see why if you take a google maps view. Four major gully networks course through Hamilton to the Waikato River and the image from above shows how extensive they are.
We have joined the 3000, with a house on the edge of the Kirikiriroa system, which empties into the river near the Pukete bridge. We are fortunate: the previous owners did some dedicated work restoring our piece of gully to a healthy state. A network of paths takes you down the slope, past tree ferns and other natives including a decades-old kahikatea that is given to creaking ominously in the wind.
Still, some nasty things lurk there: artillery plant, arum lilies, woolly nightshade, tradescantia. But mostly tradescantia, also unpleasantly known as wandering jew. You turn your back and the various weeds resume their endless creeping.
That’s down at the bottom; the upper slopes are relatively clear. Some friends wonder whether we could just leave the gully to do its thing. After all, the top part that we can see from our garden is in great shape. They’re well meaning, but that seems against the spirit of the place. For one thing, working in the gully feels like an act of honouring those who went before us, so to speak. And for another, gullies are collective endeavours that come with an obligation now that we’ve learned to view them as biodiverse assets rather than just dumping grounds.
The collective endeavour is helped tremendously by a few knowledgeable individuals, and our best advice so far has come from a Hamilton City Council expert. He breezed through the place, identifying plants, offering tips and reassuring us that it’s all perfectly manageable as long as we work smart.
To that end, he gave us a huge black plastic sheet. The idea is that we use it to rot down the weeds. We chuck them under its vast expanse where, deprived of light, they give up their collective ghost. It now sits at the bottom by the small creek and every now and then I throw back a corner to shovel more weeds in. Given it stretches over 6m by 4m, that’s a lot of weeds, but we’ve got plenty. It was a great, practical contribution.
The council also has an excellent guide that lays out the case for gully restoration as well as providing advice for landowners. And yet, across the creek that marks the boundary of our property rises council land that is choked with weeds.
The gully systems, along with the river, are the jewels in Hamilton’s crown. Successful restoration relies on a partnership of private landowners, the council and volunteers. At a time of change at the council, it is vital that resources remain for restoration programmes.