Na­ture notes

Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough - - CONSERVATION ANGELA CROMPTON -

Top sci­en­tists and a group of con­ser­va­tion­ists gath­ered in a Bioblitz on the Den­nis­ton Plateau this month to iden­tify what will be lost if an Aus­tralian com­pany starts open-cast min­ing there.

A Bioblitz sum­mary was shown in Blen­heim when nat­u­ral his­tory pho­tog­ra­pher Rod Mor­ris pre­sented an il­lus­trated talk to a Marl­bor­ough For­est & Bird meet­ing.

One of its mem­bers, Mike Har­vey, had taken part in the Bioblitz.

It was his first visit to Den­nis­ton, lo­cated 600 me­tres above sea level in the Pa­pa­haua Ranges, 18 kilo­me­tres north­east of West­port.

Mike joined the March 10 and 11 ex­pe­di­tion to add his voice to those op­pos­ing open-cast min­ing that will de­stroy the unique West Coast con­ser­va­tion land.

Pro­mo­tion and public money spent on sci­en­tific re­search to pro­tect the nat­u­ral ecosys­tem has dwin­dled over the years, the re­tired hy­drol­o­gist be­lieves.

He worked for the for­mer Depart­ment of Sci­en­tific and In­dus­trial Re­search in Dunedin.

As­sign­ments there had in­cluded mea­sur­ing water lev­els be­fore projects like the Clyde Dam were built, en­sur­ing ad­verse ef­fects were un­der­stood and mit­i­gated.

It was Dunedin where he joined the For­est & Bird So­ci­ety and his mem­ber­ship con­tin­ued when he moved to Blen­heim in 1990.

Marl­bor­ough has only a small pop­u­la­tion for the branch to draw mem­bers from, he says, but the area it over­sees is large.

A long-stand­ing con­cern for the so­ci­ety has been the lack of na­tive veg­e­ta­tion on the Wairau Plains and the ex­pand­ing mono­cul­ture of grapes.

For­est & Bird ini­ti­ated the preser­va­tion and re­plant­ing of wet­lands at Spring Creek and the Wairau La­goon, he says.

Indige­nous veg­e­ta­tion on the Wither Hills can be com­pared to that on Den­nis­ton – ‘‘dry and not as glam­orous as other ar­eas’’.

But un­like Den­nis­ton, weeds are dom­i­nant in the red hills around the Wairau Val­ley, a con­se­quence of hu­man ac­tiv­ity dis­turb­ing the land.

For­est & Bird mem­bers were among the op­po­nents of Solid En­ergy ex­tend­ing its Stock­ton Mine to nearby Happy Val­ley, a rocky, paved land­scape where na­tive bush and frag­ile wet­land was home to threat­ened species like the great spot­ted kiwi and the large na­tive pow­elliphanta patrick­en­sis snail.

‘‘We de­cided to sac­ri­fice the Stock­ton [ex­pan­sion] so we can re­tain the Den­nis­ton,’’ Mike says.

No-one had counted on sta­te­owned en­ter­prise Coal Corp al­low­ing its min­ing per­mits to lapse and a West­port businessman sell­ing the old coalmine site to an Aus­tralian firm, Bathurst. It prom­ises to cre­ate 35 jobs if plans go ahead to start open-cast min­ing in Oc­to­ber.

The Bioblitz was di­vided into eight sep­a­rate groups for the two-day study. Mike’s group was in­structed to search for un­usual plants. ‘‘There were about five of us spread out, so we each cov­ered a sep­a­rate ter­ri­tory. If we found some­thing we called out to a sci­en­tist and they had to look at it.’’

Den­nis­ton was mined be­tween 1879 and 1967 but the un­der­ground op­er­a­tions left the land­scape and na­tive bio­di­ver­sity largely in­tact.

The Bioblitz study iden­ti­fied what will be de­stroyed if open min­ing goes ahead, in­clud­ing minia­ture rata trees and rare na­tive species of weta, but­ter­fly, gecko, ci­cada, car­niv­o­rous snails and flat­worms.

Con­ser­va­tion ground­work: Photo: SUP­PLIED

En­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tant Mike Hard­ing, left, and a Buller Coal en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist lo­cate a for­est gecko dur­ing a Bioblitz on the Den­nis­ton Plateau this month.

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