At-risk native plants protected

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Situated in the Waikerikeri Valley overlooking the Clutha River lies one of Central Otago’s newest QEII covenants.

The 12ha covenant is home to four “at-risk” native plant species, including tree daisies, veronica, Cromwell broom and Pimelea aridula, along with a grove of golden kowhai trees.

Waikeri Downs station owner Earl Attfield said he was first alerted to the kowhai forest about 20 years ago when a local walking group tramped through the area.

“The was always the odd one then all of a sudden there were clumps of them. A lot of people around here won’t even know what a kowhai is.”

About 18 months ago, he and wife Bernadette made the decision to have the area protected as a QEII covenant, ensuring its perpetual protection while remaining private land.

The area would be used this weekend as part of a rogaine event and there were plans to open the land up to the public to show people the native species. Clyde Railhead Community Eco-Nursery also used the area to gather native seeds.

“We thought about it and we thought it was important to have it there for future generations.

“The thing is here, we came eight kilometres from my house to here, but if people come over from Clyde it’s accessible to the public; readily, really.”

The area was now fenced off from stock and rabbit control would continue to be carried out in the area, he said.

In order to have the site assessed, Mr Attfield approached QEII National Trust Central Otago regional representative Rob Wardle.

From there, the site was surveyed against Land Environments of New Zealand criteria, Mr Wardle said, which determined it was a viable area that deserved protecting. The area was approved in April.

Mr Wardle said QEII covenants in Central Otago ranged from small urban areas to the vast 53,000ha Mahu Whenua covenants near Arrowtown.

“Some of the priority areas in Central are our drylands, because Central Otago is the driest area of New Zealand.

“Our covenants in Central Otago tend not to be pristine, they’re often quite modified, but they contain a very high number of threatened plants and animal species.

“Some areas that look like wastelands have minute plants that only appear in the spring.”

It usually took about two years for an area to be assessed and approved after a landowner approached a QEII representative, he said. Each area was surveyed on a case-by-case basis, and while there was no real minimum area, the space had to be viable and able to withstand “disruptions” in the form of pests.

Once an area was classified, the landowner was expected to maintain the site, he said, although the there was a trust established that could assist property owners.

Some of the bigger challenges and threats to covenants were wilding trees and broom, he said.

It was up to the landowner to decide whether their area would be publicly accessible or not, he said.

QEII covenants had an important role to play in the protection of landscapes and private land and could complement work carried out in public land, he said.

Covenants could also play an important part in creating a corridor of native bush along Central Otago rivers, he said.

“It often really complements land managed by Doc. Doc tends to manage really high areas that are often pretty natural but the real rarities are down on private land.”

Changes in landscapes due to farm developments and urban expansion also made covenants valuable, he said.

QEII covenant information: Rwardle@openspace.org.nz.