Working with threatened plants in South Marlborough

Department of Conservation —  18/03/2016

Sam Sutherland tells us about her time working for DOC in South Marlborough over the summer…

I very quickly realised that they were not kidding when I was told in my interview for DOC that I needed to be confident on steep terrain. It was my second day on the job (and second ever time in the South Island) and I was well and truly in the thick of it.

Sam Sutherland at Molesworth Station.

Enjoying the vistas of Molesworth Station after work

The sun was blaring down and my pack filled with essential field equipment such as a GPS unit, radio, clothes for the extremes and a large supply of water (important in Marlborough), felt heavy on my back. We had slowly been making our way up for over an hour with only sporadic animal tracks to follow. I was now perched on a narrow ledge attempting to measure the diameter of a small threatened plant which grows on unstable limestone bluffs.

For the past three months I have been working as a Flora Assistant Ranger with DOC. Basically this involved assisting another ranger with a flora survey, monitoring threatened plants within the South Marlborough region.

Sam Sutherland on a Carmichaelia muritai.

Rocking the high-vis during a Carmichaelia muritai (tree to the right) survey

Marlborough is unique in that it has a high number of threatened plants many of which are endemic which means they are only found within the region. The work has been varied and has covered a range of environments, which have been totally foreign coming from Auckland, where I was more familiar with working in forests.

Much of the work occurred at Molesworth Station where we got to don outfits reminiscent to something out of Ghostbusters and use weed wands (yes that is the technical term) to dab herbicide onto weeds present within a tarn (mountain lake) which dries up over the summer. This tarn contains eight threatened plant species including the Nationally Critical Craspedia “tarn”, known only to exist at this site.

Sam Sutherland hunting for new plants near Clarence River.

Hunting for new plants near Clarence River

Over the summer I felt like an explorer as I trawled over wetlands and river terraces of the Clarence River in Molesworth Station hoping to discover new threatened plant records (of which we ended up finding several). Waist deep rivers have been waded to find that Dysphania pusilla (a plant thought to be extinct prior to 2015) with a star fish like growth habit is still present on river banks in the Clarence Valley. Finally there has been scrambling up coastal cliffs clinging to any vegetation available to make my way to coastal tree brooms Carmichaelia muritai with anticipation to see whether the tree is untagged and therefore a new recruit.

Dysphania pusilla.

Dysphania pusilla

This has been a summer of learning, not only about threatened plant management but also other skills and lessons. These include that nothing ever goes to plan (particularly on a Monday), how to use a metal detector and that no two gates are the same, and I have certainly opened a lot of gates. I have seen amazing scenery, found some pretty neat plants and worked with great people.

I have loved every minute of my summer working with DOC and look forward to my next adventure.

One response to Working with threatened plants in South Marlborough

    Murray Dawson 09/07/2016 at 3:55 pm

    Nice one Sam! Marborough is a very special place with its range of endemic plants.