CI Conservation Board Meeting – 21st April 2021 – to Taia and beyond

The April 2021 meeting of the Chatham Island Conservation Board included a welcome field inspection of the Taia Peninsula, probably one of the less accessible areas on Rekohu / Wharekauri / Chatham Island. The board were keen to see and hear about the management of this area, which is a large block of land with extremely high cultural and biodiversity values. Taia, once farmed, had been purchased by the Nature Heritage Fund for the purpose of forming an Historic Reserve.  

In the interim, Taia is being co-managed by the Hokotehi Moriori Trust (HMT) and the Department of Conservation (DOC), while a ruling is awaited from the Minister of Conservation on ownership and management matters, it is important that the cultural and biodiversity values of Taia are maintained and enhanced for iwi and imi, and this was what the board wished to see.

Despite the promise of inclement weather, the board proceeded with the planned field trip meeting HMT Rangers Duane Trafford and Cassidy Solomon at the Hapupu Bush access to Taia. Present for the field trip were Board Chair Judy Kamo, and board members Di Gregory-Hunt, Susan Thorpe and Peter de Lange. Also present were Michelle Anderson, and Lynne Huggins (DOC weed scientist).

Heading into Taia, Duane and Cassidy gave a detailed explanation of plans for predator control, which, in its initial phases will include the removal of cats, possums and rats from the peninsula. Duane outlined the concept HMT has of a Taia Predator Free landscape that was welcomed by the board. Such an idea had been mooted by botanists from DOC as far back as 2002 but due to land claim issues had not been previously acted upon. HMT’s vision the board found realistic, achievable and for the future biodiversity of the islands essential. Notable, too was that the board got a first-hand experience of the mess created by feral pigs. Board members and Lynne Huggins were impressed at the weed control being undertaken, notably the removal of the so called ‘cranberry’ more correctly Chilean guava (Ugni molinae) which represents a serious long term threat to the peat bog and shrubland ecosystems of the islands, let alone the pasture it rapidly colonises (stock will eat it but as the plants contain strong tannin’s and oils this makes them a less desired food source for sheep and cattle, and over time it will completely over grow pasture in impenetrable thickets).

At Kairae the board were shown efforts to manage the unique rakau momori found on kōpi (Corynocarpus laevigatus). These are tree bruising’s and etchings – the later Duane called ‘cameos’. Management included the maintenance of wind breaks, to reduce tree death and encourage regeneration, and also the careful pruning and thinning of understorey saplings, trees and shrubs, which are then mulched and returned to the forest floor.  This annual work programme is governed by a ‘Kōpi Management Plan and Advisory Board drawn up by HMT and DOC. At Kairae the board also smelt and noted the presence of ground nesting sea birds – a good sign of predator control efficacy and great for the environment as seabirds bring vital nutrient from the sea back to the Taia Peninsula, where vegetation has otherwise developed over nutrient starved sandy soils.

At the restored Taia house the board had a welcome cuppa and lunch (prepared for them by the Chatham Hotel) whilst Lynne Huggins and Peter de Lange examined the gardens for potentially bad weed species and made a quick search for male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) an aggressive introduced fern seen by Peter there in 2002. None were found though a more comprehensive search is needed before we can say it has been eradicated from there. The dangers posed to the Chatham Island flora from garden plantings were highlighted to the board who were shown the koromiko cultivars Hebe (Veronica) ×franciscana ‘blue gem’ and Brachyglottis compacta × B. greyi,common garden plants that can form hybrids with Chatham Island endemic koromiko (Hebe (Veronica) chathamica, H. (V.) dieffenbachii) and H. (V.) barkeri) and rautini (Brachyglottis huntii). Following lunch, the board returned via the restiad bog where numerous healthy plants of the threatened taramea repo / speargrass (Aciphylla traversii) were seen. By now the weather had turned, to drizzle and by Hapupu drizzle merged into steady rain.

The board meeting concluded at Kaingaroa School, where in between phone calls about milk orders and the need for Di Gregory-Hunt to find accommodation as the Rangihaute / Rangiauria / Pitt plane was now not flying due to the weather, the meeting went as planned.

The next board meeting will be held at Whakamaharatanga Marae, Te One, on 25 June 2021.

Associate Professor (Botany, Ecology, Plant Conservation, Biosystematics) at Unitec in Auckland and a former Department of Conservation scientist. Peter has been visiting the Chatham Islands since 1996 and is a current member of the Chatham Islands Conservation Board.