Rata Moehau - the Big Rata Asleep On the Hill (Aka Bartlett's) - Gets Going

By Janeen Collings (DOC Ranger)

The big rata (Metrosideros bartlettii) might be asleep on the hill but the local community is wide awake in their efforts to protect this Taonga. Thanks to the efforts of many, Rata Moehau, the unique white flowering forest giant is well on the way to recovery. It was under serious threat of extinction with only 31 adult trees in the wild. The trees were clinging to existence in three discreet sites all within a short distance of each other in the Far North.

Iwi Ngati Kuri supported the Department of Conservation (DOC) in the initial efforts to boost up the population. A total of 360 trees were planted into Radar Bush and Kohuroa in the winter of 2007. These sites are intensively managed for possum control each year. Many of those planted are now reaching into the light at over 2m tall and looking very healthy. I would like to say a big thank you to all the volunteers at the Kerikeri Nursery for doing such a wonderful job of growing this first lot of trees. Also thanks go to all the local people who came out and played in the mud with us for the planting. The wider conservation programme for Rata Moehau will see a range of protected sites throughout the Far North established with trees sourced from all three sites.  

Troy Kaaka and Pereniki Conrad. Photo by DOC.

The Rata Moehau population has not been faring well on private land due to the build up of possum numbers but we can look forward to a better future. DOC has worked closely with iwi Ngati Kuri to support the development of a Kawenata (Covenant) at the Unuwhao site which is a strong hold for Rata Moehau. This has come to fruition and now possum control is happening with Iwi, DOC, and Nga Whenua Rahui all adding their various expertise to the mix. The aim is to create a safe and stable habitat for existing plants and to return to Unuwhao plants that were sourced from there. It is time to bring people and their Taonga plant species together.

Terry Hatchet of Joy Nurseries has been growing Rata Moehau holding the insurance policy against extinction and has kindly gifted plants back to Ngati Kuri.  The gifted plants being sourced from the Unuwhao site are very significant in a cultural sense. Add to this the fact that plants from this site contain the highest genetic diversity for the entire wild population and you have a good basis for a successful conservation programme.

Wayne Petera of Ngati Kuri has set up a beautiful nursery and is now working with the Rata that will go back to Unuwhao. Some of those working with Wayne at the nursery took the initiative to propagate from these trees to begin a planting programme immediately around the nursery to compliment other propagating initiatives. Wayne is also caring for some really big Rata Moehau.  These specimen trees are targeted for planting at interpretation sites telling some of the stories along the spiritual pathway to Te Rerenga Wairua. All in all the activities and korero are providing opportunities for encounter and understanding within a local context which is integral to the conservation of this magnificent species.

Project Crimson has been working diligently in the background providing funding and continues to provide valuable support for the ongoing conservation of Bartletts Rata. Over the next two years Project Crimson are providing 300 trees which will be planted in the most protected sites in the Te Paki Ecological District.   Watch this space.