With January having skidded past in a haze of hot and sunny weather I thought I’d reflect on Seeley’s Gully – a local restoration project begun over half a century ago. Through patient trial-and-error, this once degraded 2 hectare site has been converted into a spectacular urban wilderness.
Hamilton is a city of gullies though you would hardly know it. Many parts of the 4 extensive systems (Kirikiriroa, Mangakotukutuku, Mangaonua and Waitawhiriwhiri) that wind their way toward the Waikato River are smothered by roads, channelled into pipes and infilled. Because houses face toward roads, the gullies running past their back fences have become dumping grounds for garden waste and decrepit white-ware.
The transformation of Seeley’s Gully over time reflects the changing attitudes toward, and understandings of these steep sided unstable pockets of the cityscape. Though still a convenient storm water system for the city, their ecological value is being recognised – thanks to a growing community of gully restoration practitioners scattered throughout the city supported by local government and researchers from the University of Waikato.
What makes Seeley’s unique is that it was privately owned. A family of donkeys (Abigail, Ebenezer, Jessica and Rebecca) once grazed the grassy areas and over time more and more trees were planted and paths were constructed. Handmade signs – vivid marker on icecream tub lids, served as a working diary of experiments undertaken and species planted. When gully was gifted to Hamilton City Council in 2004, the reinvigoration of the ecosystem was well underway. Tui are now regular visitors. Kahikatea are tens of meters tall. Weeds are few and far between. A gully group has evolved to ensure the good work continues and a series of interpretation panels have been added to share this inspiring story.
The short trip to and through the gully is a welcome break from the travails of academic writing – at this stage in my PhD it’s 2 papers and a book chapter on the go. Not that I’m complaining… it’s a privilege to be doing research about community groups and environmental restoration when I can see achievements like Seeley’s Gully at first hand and only a 5-minute walk away.