Little Gem Lake at Sweetwater, 17km north of Kaitaia, has been the focus of a community-based restoration project since 2010. Summit Forests purchased the 19-hectare site in 2013 which included the lake, paddocks and 8 hectares of pine forest situated between Lake Ngatu and Te Hiku Forest. Summit also manages Te Hiku Forest which is owned by local iwi and some community members.
Little Gem is a dune lake, a rare ecosystem formed by strong sea winds and moving sand. There are over 400 dune lakes in Northland but they’re rare around the world and highly threatened by coastal development, drainage, grazing, nutrient enrichment pest plants and fish invasion. Destroying these dune lakes has consequences for the associated unique flora and fauna. Little Gem Lake provides habitat for wetland species including New Zealand Dabchick, Australian Grebe and the nationally critical Australasian bittern and nationally endangered aquatic plant milfoil.
In conjunction with Northland Regional Council, Bushlands Trust, DOC, Ngāi Takoto, NZ Fish & Game, local schools, volunteers and others in the community, Summit Forests has committed to various ongoing restoration projects to look after this environmental treasure. Projects have included fencing, annual planting days and removing hazardous trees, as well as ongoing work such as controlling pests and weeds and mowing the track. Through these projects, Little Gem has transformed from being very degraded to having a continuously vegetated margin, pristine water quality, and being a significant habitat for threatened species.
Summit organises an annual planting day that includes preparing the planting site and purchasing eco-sourced seedlings. In 2021, 700 Pohutukawa were planted across three hectares of Summit Forests’ land surrounding Little Gem, which will in time become an impressive lowland Pohutukawa forest. In 2022,1396 trees were planted: 1000 seedlings (mostly Kanuka plus Karaka, Houpara, Manuka, Harakeke, Tī kōuka and Kohekohe) and a further 396 Pohutukawa.
“Little Gem is one of the best revegetation projects that I have ever seen and thanks to Summit it just keeps getting better”.— Steve Amon from Bushland Trust
As well as the restoration projects, Summit has established the Little Gem recreational track which provides a link between Lake Ngatu, Te Hiku Forest, and Te-Oneroa-a-Tōhē / Ninety Mile Beach. This year, the track was extended, and mountain bike access gates were installed. As well as making use of the track, the members of the community use the open space to exercise, relax and reconnect with nature. Local schools also use the site for outdoor education programmes.
Summit would like to thank all involved in the on-going work on Little Gem Lake and encourage the community to enjoy and respect this special place.