Last weekend Richard and I were taking the dogs out to the bush for a walk when I noticed a problem.

One of the nīkau palms (Rhopalostylis sapida) near the fence line had fallen over. The ‘widowmakers’ (Astelia hastata, perching lily) had made it too top-heavy and recent winds had knocked it down over the fence, towards the paddock.

Dogs checking out a large nikau that has fallen over the fence

We went off and enjoyed our walk anyway. When we came back via the stile, we found another one! Two of these suckers were down and over the fence.

Wider view of the fenceline showing where the allen Nikau are in relation to the stile and gate entries to the bush

The wind must have been stronger than we thought!

Why everything takes a long time

Everything seems to take forever to actually achieve here, and this is a perfect example as to why.

On a normal day, you’ve got a set of activities to undertake – daily jobs (like feeding the animals); weekly jobs (moving the cows, mowing the lawns); and seasonal jobs (spraying the gorse, planting, harvesting).

On top of those ‘usual’ jobs (which include actual off-farm employment and regular stuff like grocery shopping), you’ve got to fit in the ‘projects’ – the short, medium, and long term development plans.

And then two trees will fall on your electric fence and that will take priority for the day.

Or at least, that’s what took priority on this day. You had plans? Well… do you want your cows to stay in their paddocks?

Fixing the problem

To fix the problem, we collected up some gear: the quad bike, a roll of rope, a bunch of fencing supplies, a hammer, fencing pliers, a chainsaw, gloves, and safety glasses. Richard gassed up the machines and made sure the chainsaw would go. He drove over, while I walked with the dogs.

We got there and Richard suggested we cut off the top of the tree and turn the piece stuck over the fence into a ‘ball’, leaving a ‘handle’ of trunk on the far side.

We’d tie the rope around the ‘handle’ and pull it with the quad bike, causing the ‘ball’ to gently ‘roll’ off the fence.

That made complete sense to me, and so we set about doing it. We began with the smaller one near the stile. Richard disconnected the fence wires to release the tension, then he cut off the top of the trunk.

Richard making the first cut on the first nikau we attempted to sort out

It was bloody heavy and took the two of us a bit of effort to move out of the way.

Will it work?

We moved the quad bike into position and measured out our rope, fixing it around the trunk on the far side of the fence.

Cutting the 'handle' on the first nikau

Richard cut the trunk on the fence side, then jumped on the quad bike.

It worked!

The second tree was bigger and smothered in white rātā (Metrosideros perforata), which made cutting the piece a little more complicated, but soon enough we got the top off. The cows are really going to enjoy that rātā the next time they’re in this paddock.

The terrain was a little less ideal and we needed a longer rope. I sorted that out while Richard created our ‘handle’ on the other side of the fence. Then he jumped on the quad bike again, driving forward.

Boom!

We packed up the gear and I lugged a bunch of it up the hill while Richard put the fence back together.

When is a tree not a tree?

The second tree was particularly interesting and sad to lose. Because it’s not just one plant. It’s at least four:

The main tree was a nīkau. Growing on it were several epiphytes. There was a large clump of perching lily/’widowmakers’, which would have made it quite top-heavy, and which formed the ‘ball’ we were rolling off the fence.

Then there was the rātā which had a thick trunk running down to the ground, and a large bushy head, also adding to the top-weight.

Then, if you look closer still, there were a range of ferns, mosses, and lichens. It wasn’t just a tree, it was an ecosystem.

The smallest blessing is this particular nīkau was not the home to my favourite plant in the bush – Earina mucronata, or peka-a-waka. I’ve only found it growing in a patch about 5m x 5m, and it likes to grow on nīkau trunks.

Some of the species found on one of the fallen nikau
One of the trees that fell was right in that area. I went back to double check – if that had been growing there, I would have attempted a rescue. Thankfully, the native orchids are still fine.

Not by choice

It wasn’t reasonable to return the pieces back into the bush to rot, though it is the ideal solution for the ecosystem. Trust me when I say they were heavy.

Every time we have to do something like this, we consider our health and safety. Richard knows first-hand how easy it can be to lose control of a quad bike. I’m a bit of a nag about it because we only get one body each, and when we injure ourselves, it only pushes everything else further back in the queue.

Biffing something like this over a fence, or walking over multiple loose wires while holding a large bulky object just offers up 20 different ways one could possibly require medical assistance. I’m not about that. Especially as we live a couple of hours from the nearest hospital; our covid and flu numbers are peaking; a GP appointment is difficult to get; and elective surgeries are being cancelled. No thanks.

Even if we had access to equipment able to do the work safely, it’s too wet to have it on the paddock without causing further environmental damage.

So the pieces will stay in the paddock. Perhaps after the cows have had a chew they might be more manageable to throw back over, but for now, they stay where they are.

We didn’t choose to cut them down, and I don’t think they chose to fall on our fence. It’s just how the cookie crumbled.

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