Off the beaten track: fern-hunting in a snow damaged forest

Fieldwork can be as easy as reaching out of the car window to sample a tree. Or it can be a bit more challenging.

A couple of weeks ago botany curator Leon Perrie and I went to Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park to look at tree ferns.

We’d visited the same site earlier in the year and although there were no tracks to the area we visited, it was a fairly straightforward walk.

Whirinaki forest earlier in 2016. Note the clear view through the forest understory.

Whirinaki forest earlier in 2016. Note the clear view through the forest understory. Te Papa

However, on our recent visit it was difficult to believe we were in the same forest. The understory is now a near-impenetrable mess of broken branches and fallen trees.

Whirinaki forest a few weeks ago.

Whirinaki forest a few weeks ago, 2016. Te Papa

So what had happened in between our two visits?

In August there was a large snowfall in the region that closed many roads, disrupting many people’s travel plans and isolating communities.

This snowfall also caused the damage we were seeing to the forest and it is part of the natural regeneration cycle. The gaps created by fallen branches and trees allow more light to reach the forest floor, creating opportunities for seeds to germinate and seedlings to grow into the newly available space.

There is now a huge amount of work required to clear the tramping tracks at Whirinaki. We spent some time walking on one track that had been cleared for several kilometres. The photos below are taken looking in each direction at the point where the track clearing stopped.

Yes, this is a track! This point marked where the clearing of fallen trees stopped. See the next photo for the view behind us.

Yes, this is a track! This point marked where the clearing of fallen trees stopped. See the next photo for the view behind us, 2016. Te Papa

 

Leon Perrie looking behind to where the track had been cleared. A huge effort had been put in to clear the track.

Leon Perrie looking behind to where the track had been cleared. A huge effort had been put in to clear the track, 2016. Te Papa

 

Lara Shepherd, Science Researcher

4 Responses

  1. John Van den Hoeven

    Beautiful place and forest despite the damage.The track from Central Whirinaki through to Upper Te Hoe Hut is especially spectacular.

    Reply
    • Lara Shepherd

      Yes, it is certainly a fantastic forest. I’ll have to put the walk you suggest on my bucket list (perhaps once the track has been cleared though!).

  2. Olwen Mason

    Nice photography and a reassuring story. Thanks.

    Reply

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