Hundreds of kōwhai trees will be planted throughout Otago from this week in an effort to bring back one of our favourite natives.

Hundreds of kōwhai trees will be planted throughout Otago from this week in an effort to bring back one of our favourite natives.

The Department of Conservation in Otago launched the kōwhai scheme, named 'Project Gold’, at the Otago Conservation Awards in Cromwell on Thursday, 15 September.

DOC Otago botanist John Barkla, who initiated the Project Gold idea, said his dream was to see kōwhai and then native forest once again flourish in Otago. The increase in kōwhai and other native trees would attract more native birds such as tūī, bellbird/korimako and wood pigeon/kererū.

"Kōwhai have undergone a massive decline but they are highly valued and treasured by New Zealanders. They are ingrained in our history and Maori culture. Only small groves of kōwhai and isolated lone trees now remain and they’re threatened by pests and old age," Mr Barkla said.

DOC is aiming for mass kōwhai plantings in parks, reserves, school grounds, backyards, farms, and along tracks.

"Kōwhai are not hard to grow and we can give you planting information and seeds eco-sourced and suited to your area," Mr Barkla said.

"We’ve decided to initiate this project to ensure a golden future for Otago. DOC will be a facilitator and supporter, but we’re hoping it will ultimately be taken up by the community. Many organisations, individuals and businesses have already become involved by attending public meetings and planting days."

There has been a groundswell of support for Project Gold in areas such as the Wakatipu, where local business Kiwi Discovery has provided sponsorship to the tune of $10,000 a year for the next three years.

Community meetings have been held in Queenstown and Glenorchy, and staff from DOC’s Wakatipu Area Office have visited several public and private sites to determine suitability for kōwhai planting.

"The positive response to the project has been amazing and staff are working hard to keep up with the interest it has created. Local people are being encouraged to ‘adopt a kōwhai site’, which they can plant and enjoy for years to come. The community will provide the manpower and time and DOC will provide technical support. In the next year, several sites will be cleared and weeded in preparation for planting kōwhai and other supporting natives," Community Relations Ranger Susie Geh said.

"We’re also working with our local Enviroschools representative to introduce the project into Queenstown schools and encourage local children to get involved."

In Wanaka, kōwhai planting days have been held on Mou Waho Island in Lake Wanaka and on the Luggate Creek Track and another is planned for Lake Wanaka outlet. Groups involved in the project include Central Otago – Lakes Forest and Bird, the Luggate Community Association, Mt Aspiring College, and the Te Kakano Aotearoa Trust, a nursery that grows plants for community projects.

In Dunedin, kōwhai will be planted during the Living Legends Muck-in at Waitati.

The Central Otago event will be held at the Clyde Rail Head at the start of the Otago Central Rail Trail. One of the project aims is to plant kōwhai at selected sites along the trail.

Project Gold planting events planned during Conservation Week include:

Coastal Otago

The Great Living Legends Muck-in
Sunday 25 September 1 – 4pm
Orokonui Scenic Reserve, Foyle St, Waitati
Pull on your gumboots, grab your spades and bring along your family and friends to help us plant nearly 5000 native trees (including kōwhai) to honour rugby legend Kees Meeuws.

Central Otago

Friday 16 September 2 - 4pm
Clyde Railhead, off Springvale Rd
Contact: Tessa Bunny, DOC Central Otago, + 64 3 440 2044


Saturday 17 September 9.30am - 12.30pm
Lake Hayes walking track
Contact: Susie Geh, DOC Wakatipu, + 64 3 442 7933


Lake Wanaka Outlet planting day
Saturday 17 September
Contact: Te Kakano Aotearoa Trust +64 3 428 9669 

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