Hope for na­tive flora

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By MICHAEL KOPP

Robyn Smith spends as much of her own time as her work time at Greater Welling­ton Re­gional Coun­cil try­ing to save and spread our na­tive plants, many threat­ened with ex­tinc­tion.

Now the Ti­tahi Bay res­i­dent, who works in the coun­cil’s Take Care pro­gramme for vol­un­teer con­ser­va­tion­ists and restora­tionists, has won a na­tional award as a ‘‘lead­ing guardian’’ of plants from the New Zealand Plant Con­ser­va­tion Net­work.

‘‘It was quite a sur­prise,’’ says Ms Smith about the award.

Ms Smith is like an am­bas­sador for na­tive plants. She works with three dozen groups of vol­un­teers in Take Care, which is cel­e­brat­ing its 10th an­niver­sary. Its pur­pose is to re­verse the loss of the re­gion’s bio­di­ver­sity – a key plank of the coun­cil’s ‘‘sus­tain­abil­ity’’ plat­form.

Ms Smith re­luc­tantly agrees that she might be said to have a ‘‘ na­tive green thumb’’ for her abil­ity to fos­ter rare and en­dan­gered plant species, such as the herb Leptinella nana, a very threat­ened species.

That is one of the plants she is try­ing to re-es­tab­lish through pro­grammes she over­sees, like the restora­tion of parts of the Whi­tireia Park at Porirua burned in a fire caused by ar­son this year.

Na­tive plants face com­pe­ti­tion from all sorts of other species such as pas­ture grass, and that ubiq­ui­tous in­tro­duced pest, gorse.

‘‘We hope to be able to get rid of all the gorse in the whole park some­day. The park has a huge recre­ational po­ten­tial,’’ Ms Smith says.

The blaze did no favours to the de­sir­able plants of Whi­tireia. Fire helps gorse re­gen­er­ate by re­leas­ing the seeds to ger­mi­nate.

The Take Care group will work its way up the in­land stream val­ley, which suf­fered badly from the fire, with dam­age done to the habi­tat for na­tive fish like the banded kokopu and eels.

Ms Smith’s groups planted 7500 na­tives in Whi­tireia, with up to 80 peo­ple show­ing up ev­ery day dur­ing the plant­ing sea­son. ‘‘ It’s amaz­ing what peo­ple are do­ing out there, just bril­liant,’’ she says.

She has been a mem­ber of the park’s board for many years, hav­ing been nom­i­nated by the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion. Her role will come to an end as the new Whi­tireia Park board will be com­posed of three mem­bers of Ngati Toa and three rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Greater Welling­ton Re­gional Coun­cil, prob­a­bly se­nior of­fi­cers or coun­cil­lors. The coun­cil will man­age the park.

But Ms Smith says the park will be in good hands. Coun­cil con­sul­tant Peter Hand­ford has al­most com­pleted a sus­tain­able man­age­ment plan for Whi­tireia, af­ter do­ing one for Bel­mont Re­gional Park. The coun­cil has only a limited bud­get for Take Care and for Whi­tireia Park man­age­ment and restora­tion, but is com­mit­ted to it.

Self-taught in botany and nat­u­ral his­tory, Ms Smith has worked in nat­u­ral his­tory and con­ser­va­tion for al­most 20 years, first with the Queen El­iz­a­beth Na­tional Trust, then the Otari Bush. She has now been with the coun­cil for about three years.

She also worked with Take Care groups on the Otaki Dunes restora­tion and Waitohu Stream cleanup, plant­ing na­tive grasses like spinifex, which roots well in sand and spreads, slow­ing the wind and al­low­ing the dunes to re­shape them­selves and so be­come lower and more sta­ble.

The Take Care group fo­cuses on the beach end of the stream and nearby dunes and wet­lands. The es­tu­ary is home to lots of wildlife, in­clud­ing birds and white­bait. The Waitohu is one of the most pol­luted streams in the Welling­ton re­gion.

Ms Smith also worked on the Hulls Creek restora­tion in Up­per Hutt, and with the Wairarapa Pa­pawai-Mana­garara Take Care group on a three-year project to re­store the mauri, or life force, of the Mana­garara Stream in Grey­town.

The ma­jor­ity of Take Care projects fo­cus solely on the resto- ra­tion of fresh­wa­ter ecosys­tems, and the rest on coastal ar­eas.

Most Take Care sites have ecosys­tems that have been re­duced to about 10 per cent of their orig­i­nal ex­tent in the re­gion. The coun­cil says these sites could be valu­able for the rein­tro­duc­tion of threat­ened species, some of which are in de­cline na­tion­ally.

Lo­cal roots: Greater Welling­ton com­mu­nity en­vi­ron­men­tal projects team leader Robyn Smith plant­ing a young toi toi at a Whi­tireia Park plant­ing day in April.

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