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Posts Tagged ‘kauri dieback’

It’s a wrap

Posted by on January 19th, 2013

We made it to the end. 77 km. Wowed by the Waitaks. The Hillary Trail is the equal of almost any tramp I can think of.  The bush, the beaches, and the to-die-for coastal views, including today’s final cliff top walk from Bethells to Muriwai.

We have looked at a lot of kauri trees. Some magnificent. Some beautiful. Too many diseased and dying.

We have seen the future for the northern bush if we don’t get to grips with kauri dieback and it ain’t pretty.

For me the heroes of the last week have been the scientists who have walked with us, explaining their work and what is known and not known.

I share their view that if we don’t get a better understanding of the disease we don’t stand a chance of stopping it.

But I’m a politician. I see political will as the scarce commodity here. Unless this Government commits funding to continue the work of the kauri dieback programme, then the kauri doesn’t stand a chance.

To get them to that point we have to make them understand that while it is not a threat to pine trees nor kiwifruit, phytophthora taxon agathis is killing the kauri and although it might be hard to put a dollar value on that, it is nevertheless something New Zealanders care deeply about.

More to come on this. I will continue to add my voice to those scientists, environmentalists, iwi, and other concerned Kiwis who won’t let this issue go.

In the meantime I want to thank all those who have walked with us, supported, reported, and helped turn a tramp into a campaign: Fred and Marlene Holloway, Ngarimu Blair, Ross Duder, Chris McBride, Viv van der Wal, Lika, Joseph, Jasper, Jack and Jake, Ian Horner, Ellena Hough, Stacey Hill, Nick Waipara, Simon Randall, Bruce Burns, Sarah Wyse, Monique Wheat, Marnie and Alison at Whatipu Lodge, Lindy Harvey, Cheryl Krull, Cr Sandra Coney, Neville Winter and Debi Jacka from Piha Surf Club, Sir Bob Harvey, John Edgar, Kubi Witten-Hannah, Ted Scott, Karekare Surf Club, Stephen Bell and all the western Rangers, Waitangi Woods, Grant Hewison, Tracy Dalton, Alistair Hall, Jim Wheeler, Moana Maniapoto and Toby Mills, Barb Erin and Ian from Muriwai, John Chapman, my assistant Mels Barton who was the first person to tell me about kauri dieback, my son Harry, niece Manu and her friend Sarah who walked with me, and my wife Jo for doing logistics and generally being wonderful.


The future…if we don’t act

Posted by on January 18th, 2013

Day 4 of the Hillary Trail and we walk up the Maungaroa Ridge which sits above Piha. I’m with Dr Nick Waipara who is Auckland Council’s chief scientist on biosecurity matters. Nick is one of the key figures in the fight against kauri dieback and has brought me here to show  me the site where he and others first identified the disease.

The well being I feel from a great lunch at the surf club and a classic white water swim at Piha drains away as we walk through this stand of dead and dying trees. It is a kauri graveyard. The pathogen has cut a swathe along the ridge, infecting and killing 100 year old rickers and 10 year old saplings.

The forest floor is cluttered with fallen diseased trunks. Ghost trees silhouette against the sky.

We are looking at the future.

Unless we can find a way of stopping the disease in its tracks this is what the kauri forests will all come to look like.

Dr Nick Waipara tell us why the Maungaroa Ridge site is so important.

My take on how I felt on top of Maugaroa Ridge.

Day 4 – Set off from Karekare with amazing cliff top views as we head to Piha. The Piha Surf Club welcomed us with a slap up lunch (thanks Neville) which we shared with journalist James Ireland, Auckland Councillor Sandra Coney who is a great fighter for the Waitakeres, and Cheryl Krull from Auckland Uni whose PhD included work on how pigs are spreading dieback in the ranges. After the side trip to Maungaroa, we then walked through a stunning nikau forest and up to the Anawhata Craw campground.

Day 5 – Joined by Waitangi Woods the lead iwi rep on the kauri dieback programme, Stacey Hill who does comms and public engagement for the programme, my mate Tracy Dalton, my assistant Mels Barton, my niece Manu and her friend Sarah, and Alistair Hall the Editor of Wilderness magazine. An easy gentle walk across undulating country, regenerating forest with quite a few young and mostly healthy kauri, although also some dead and diseased along the ridge. Highlight was a swim in the waterfall and pools near Lake Wainamu. Destination Te Henga, Bethells Beach. Tomorrow the final leg through to Muriwai.

Scrub, spray and walk away

Posted by on January 16th, 2013

scrub, spray and walk away

Monique Wheat & Simon Randall spraying trigene disinfectant. Photo: Harry Twyford

Head of Biosecurity at Auckland Council Jack Craw is one of the key figures in the hardy band of scientists, rangers and council workers leading the fight against kauri dieback. He describes kauri dieback as the HIV/AIDS of the tree world.

It might sound odd at first to compare AIDS to a disease that is killing trees but it is not a bad analogy. First, there is no known cure. Second, the best way to stop the spread of the disease is to change our behaviours that act as the disease vector.

The lethal spores of PTA (phytophthora taxon agathis) are spread in the soil. We humans, carrying infected soil on our tramping boots, are the main vector.

So one of the main approaches of the disease management work has been to get walkers to scrub the soles of their boots, and spray them with a disinfectant called trigene, at special stations set up throughout the affected areas.

Alarmingly it has been an uphill battle to get people to  follow the signs and scrub and spray. Video cameras at the stations revealed only 25% of trampers actually doing the scrub and spray routine.

Short of closing the forests, getting people to scrub and spray is the best immediate hope for saving kauri.

Day 3 – Today my son Harry and I walked with Monique Wheat, a biologist working for the kauri dieback programme and researching where in the wood PTA affects the kauri. This is important because we need to understand the risk of spreading the disease from the timber of felled infected trees.

Today we walked from Whatipu over to Pararaha Valley, stopped for a swim in the Pararaha stream, and then walked over Zion Hill to Karekare where members of the surf club met us with tea and scones. Tomorrow we walk from Karekare to Anawhata.


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5 cool facts about kauri

Posted by on January 16th, 2013

Hillary Trail day 2

Cool facts on kauri from Bruce Burns and Sarah Wyse on day 2, accompanied by Harry Twyford and Simon Randall. Photo by Mels Barton

1. All plants need nitrogen but kauri can thrive on less than almost any other. They have an amazing ability to do well in poor soil. That is not to say they like infertile soil. In fact there is a myth that kauri are slow growers. Planted in rich soil in good conditions kauri can grow very fast.

2. Kauri forest accumulates biomass faster than most forests anywhere in the world. It grows more wood – bigger trees and more of them.

3. The kauri ecosystem is the most diverse forest type in New Zealand. Kauri forest includes around 70 plant species in a 400 sq m plot. Compare that with South Island mountain beech which has only 2-3 species. This has implications for kauri dieback because if we lose the kauri then the bush will become a lot more homogenous and less interesting.

4. The kauri has powerful anti-competitive strategies that allow it to dominate  other species. Kauri leaves and bark fall to the ground producing a litter that is acidic, slow to break down, and low in nutrients, making it hard for other species to compete in the same space.

5. The kauri has evolved a continuous self-pruning mechanism. The lower branches continually drop off leaving the tree with a smooth trunk and timber without knots. This is what made kauri so prized by the British navy for masts in the early 1800s. Missionary Samuel Marsden organised for ships that had transported convicts to Australia to call by New Zealand to pick up masts to take back to Britain.

6. Northern Maori used to chew kauri gum as an aphrodisiac, a natural Kiwi viagra. (I got this from a good source; unverified but in my view worth including).

Day 2 on the trail – Several hours walking from Huia to Mt Donald McLean with Bruce Burns who is senior lecturer in plant ecology at Auckland University, and PhD candidate Sarah Wyse who is doing her thesis on kauri ecosystems. It was a rare privilege to walk in the bush with people who know so much about it.  Then we walked the Omanawanui Trail down to Whatipu – a three hour gutbuster with stunning views across the Manukau heads and out to the bar. Tomorrow we walk from Whatipu to Karekare.

view to Whatipu

Still a way to go to Whatipu from the Puriri Ridge Track. Photo: Mels Barton

Manukau Heads

Manukau Heads from the Omanawanui Track. Photo: Mels Barton

What we don’t know

Posted by on January 14th, 2013


Phil Twyford Hillary Trail day 1

Phil Twyford, Simon Randall and Ngarimu Blair setting off on the Hillary Trail

Walking the first leg of the Hillary Trail today between Arataki Visitor Centre and Huia, I was struck by how little we know about Phytophthera taxon agathis, the pathogen that is killing kauri trees.

I can recite what we don’t know: we don’t know where it came from, we don’t know when it arrived, we don’t know exactly how it kills trees and we don’t know how to fight it.

A group of half a dozen scientists have been working on the disease for the past few years with funding support from government. A handful of scientists trying to deal with a largely unknown organism that is wiping out one of New Zealand’s most iconic species.

Most of the paltry $6 million spent over the last five years went on putting up signs and encouraging trampers to scrub the bottom of their boots, which is important to do, but if this was a biosecurity threat to our kiwifruit or pine plantations (PSA or painted apple moth) then you can bet ten times that amount would have been invested in the science.

Only science has any chance of saving the kauri.

It is important that we try to understand the disease, and what we can do about it. Plant pathologists like Ian Horner and Ellena Hough were out today in the bush above Huia monitoring whether kauri infected with PTA respond to having phosphite injected into their trunks.

Horner and Hough have day jobs with Plant and Food trying to save the kiwifruit industry from PSA. Saving kauri is a sideline for them, and today they are testing whether the phosphite they injected into 50-100 year old sick kauri a year ago has had any positive effect. It is an approach that works well with avocado trees infected with a similar pathogen to the one that is plaguing kauri.

Early results are inconclusive, but Horner concedes that even in the best case scenario, injecting phosphite is not a fix. Any beneficial effect would be temporary, only as long as the phosphite remained in the tree’s system. It might help save an iconic tree, or one treasured by a private landowner, but it is not going to save our forests.

The research must go on. The Government’s lack of commitment to extending the funding for the kauri dieback work beyond mid-2014 puts a question mark over this vital work. It is only a few million dollars a year. The survival of kauri as a species is at stake.

It has been a great start to the Hillary Trail. We had a send off from friends, park rangers and residents of the Waitakeres, with a karakia by kaumatua Fred Holloway. Thanks to my co-walkers Ngarimu Blair of Ngati Whatua, Ross Duder of Friends of Regional Parks and Simon Randall local body politician who did his Masters on Phytophtheras in the Waitakere Ranges.

Tomorrow we walk to Whatipu.

Hillary Trail send off

Send-off at Arataki

Ian Horner

Scientist Ian Horner injecting phosphite into kauri at Huia

Does Tane Mahuta need to keel over and die?

Posted by on January 14th, 2013

Over the next six days I am walking the Hillary Trail, 70 km through Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges. I have wanted to do it for a long time but it is more than just a summer tramp. I am doing it now to raise awareness of the disease that is killing one of our most cherished species, the kauri.

The killer is PTA phytophthora taxon agathis a.k.a. kauri dieback.  Eleven percent of the kauri in the Waitakeres are dead or dying because of it, although the number is probably much higher because the disease has a long incubation period with no symptoms. The disease is spreading and the trees in the Waipoua and Trounson parks in Northland are so badly infected the proposal for a kauri national park in the north has been scuppered.

Scientists I have spoken to say that unless progress is made managing or stopping the disease then it is not too much of a stretch to say the species could be extinct within decades.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that there is a big question mark over continued funding for this work.

The scientific research, and the public awareness programme which encourages walkers to scrub and spray their boots at stations on the tracks, has cost about $6 million over the last five years. That funding runs out mid-2014, and the Ministry of Primary Industries who funded most of it, now say they will not take another budget bid to Cabinet. (See TV3’s report here.)

So do they want Councils to fund it? Should we run a cake stall? I am staggered the Government would spend $85 million fighting painted apple moth because it was a threat to pine trees but can’t find a few million bucks to save the kauri.

Does Tane Mahuta need to keel over and die before they take this disease seriously?

As I walk the Hillary Trail over the next few days with scientists and researchers and park rangers who are working on this crisis, I expect it will be bitter sweet. The Hillary Trail is a spectacular walk but instead of stopping to admire the stunning kauri that are a feature of the Waitakeres, we are likely to be stopping to examine dead and dying kauri, and checking the extent of the disease’s spread.

I will be posting updates here and on facebook and twitter, and doing everything I can to highlight the need for the Government to commit the funding needed to continue the scientific research and management of the disease.

Our generation doesn’t want the kauri to die out on our watch, does it?