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News release - FT043
28 July 2013

'Stunning battler' returns to Northland

Rare native takes root in Bay of Islands sanctuary

One of New Zealand’s most endangered native plants is taking root in Northland. Forty Kakabeak plants reared by the Forest Lifeforce Restoration (FLR) Trust, a private conservation organisation, were planted on Roberton Island (Motuarohia) in the Bay of Islands yesterday (Saturday 27 July). The plants will be used to create a seed nursery to allow more Kakabeak to be propagated for re-planting in the wild.
The Kakabeak, known as ngutukākā in te reo, holds New Zealand’s highest possible threatened plant ranking: ‘Nationally Critical’. Although grown widely in gardens these domestic plants are all derivatives from a few wild plants. They have been interbred and have little or no genetic value.

Hawke’s Bay-based FLR Trust runs the largest Kakabeak propagation and restoration programme in the country and already has four seed nurseries established with seed taken from a species (Clianthus maximus)growing wild in the forests of the eastern North Island.
This species once occurred as far north as Great Barrier Island but is now restricted to the East Coast region and occurs as far south as Maungaharuru Range in Hawke’s Bay. Until last year only 110 of these plants were known to exist in the wild but the Trust’s nurseries have now produced hundreds of juvenile Kakabeak which staff have started planting on conservation land across the region.

A more northerly species, Clianthus puniceus, is even rarer.Only one wild plant of this variety is known to exist in Northland – a place where they used to thrive.

“The Bay of Islands nursery we’ve established on Roberton Island speaks to our determination to help re-establish the Kakabeak across the whole of its natural range,” said Simon Hall, Chairman of the FLR Trust.

“This is a great example of the role that private conservation initiatives must play in complementing the sterling work DOC does. Conservation in New Zealand can no longer be purely the preserve of government agencies. The job’s too big, the battle’s too fierce. Landowners and the private sector all have a role to play.”

The nursery has been established on land owned by businessman Andrew Kelly. He has planted hundreds of berry-bearing native trees on Roberton Island in a bid to attract tui and other birds that used to live there.

Roberton Island was selected for this most northerly of the Trust’s seed nurseries because it’s been pest-free since 2009. It’s one of a group of islands being restored by Project Island Song, a partnership between the volunteer group Guardians of the Bay of Islands, Rawhiti hapu Patukeha and Ngati Kuta, and the Department of Conservation.

FLR Trust forest manager Pete Shaw expects to increase the number of plants in the Roberton Island nursery from the seed of the founding population. It’s from this expanded base that seedlings will be grown for replanting in the wild.

“It’s a long-term exercise but today is an important next step in bringing this stunning battler back from the verge of extinction and helping to re-introduce it to parts of New Zealand where it once flourished,” Shaw said.

The Kakabeak, with its spectacular bunches of crimson flowers curved like the beak of the parrot after which it’s named, once ranged widely across the North Island. Its distribution is believed to have been expanded by Maori, who valued it for its decorative appeal.

Once, hundreds of plants grouped together would create a stunning spectacle in the forests of Aotearoa. But today only a few lonely specimens remain in the wild, clinging to inhospitable cliffs in a defence against goats, deer and other exotic browsers.

In addition to planting Kakabeak seedlings back in the wild, Trust staff are in the process of perfecting a groundbreaking technique to propagate the plants by blasting seeds from a shotgun into likely nursery sites. These are frequently patches of topsoil on bluffs or cliff faces that are as inaccessible to humans as they are to browsers. Helicopters are often the only way to reach them.

Staffer Barry Crene developed the technique using re-loaded shotgun shells packed with regular shotgun pellets, a pulp medium and Kakabeak seed. The shells were then discharged into soil from a range of 20 metres, about the distance a helicopter might have to hover from likely nursery sites in the wild.

This creates the potential for an aerial propagation effort on a scale that hasn’t yet been possible.

As well as its work on Kakabeak propagation, the FLR Trust is fast carving out a name for itself with the Maungataniwha Kiwi Project, one of the most prolific kiwi conservation initiatives in the country, and the re-establishment of native plants and forest on 4,000 hectares currently, or until recently, under pine.

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About the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust

The Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust was established in 2006 to provide direction and funding for the restoration of threatened species of fauna and flora, and to restore the ngahere mauri (forest lifeforce) in native forests within the Central North Island owned by businessman Simon Hall, executive Chairman of food manufacturer Tasti Foods and the driving force behind the Trust.

It runs eight main regeneration and restoration projects, involving native New Zealand flora and fauna, on three properties in the central North Island. It also owns a property in the South Island's Fiordland National Park.

For further information contact:

Peter Heath
Due North PR
Ph: +(0)21 456 089
Em: peter@duenorthpr.co.nz

Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust


© Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust.