Endangered plant species abseiling Northland

Not a bad spot to be working

Not a bad spot to be working

Back in May of this year I sub-contracted to friend of mine called Fredrik Hjelm from the Living Tree Company and Biosense.  The companies specialize in environmental Arboriculture and Botanical mapping projects.  The project I was helping them with was to find a critically endangered plant species that is found at only 1 location in Northland, New Zealand.  Fredrik asked me to help because as well as being a qualified Arborist I am also a Rope Access Technician and have experience in both industries.  The location was stunning and the job was lots of fun so I thought I would share it with you.

The needle in the hay stack

The needle in the hay stack

The main client for this project was the Department of Conservation DOC.  The species in question was Pimelea eremitica.  It is a delicate, little plant which in some way resembles a small hebe.  As of 2012 it has been listed as endangered – nationally critical using the New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS).  The plant is only found in New Zealand and is only known at 1 location.

Getting ready to head over the edge

Getting ready to head over the edge

DOC had located and been trying to protect the species for a number of years, but unfortunately, it is thought grazing animals have been driving the plant off the flats and onto steeper terrain.   Monitoring had shown that the numbers were starting to decline.  Our task was to continue an existing abseil survey of the area to locate any more plants.  If found, the locations would be mapped, and samples would be taken to accurately identify the species using DNA and to use to propagate more plants.  Luckily the plant grows easily from cuttings and so a stock pile is being created for future planting projects.

The cliffs to be abseiled were 400 meters from top to bottom.  We would be working on the top 100 meters as these were the steeper sections that the grazing animals could not get to.  Due to the challenges the site offered in terms of terrain and remoteness a detailed plan of action was formed for how we would do the work and what we would do if anything went wrong.  All of this entailed having a lot of equipment available, all of which had to be carried in on foot.  Luckily DOC employees were on hand to help us hike the gear in on unmarked paths that were heavily overgrown. 

Seb scanning for plants

Seb scanning for plants

Throughout the 3-day project we did several drops and managed to find Pimelea.  There are a number of species of Pimelea that look very similar so DNA testing will confirm if we found the correct target species, however, the botanical expert on site was confident that some of the samples were what we were after. 

Don’t look down

Don’t look down

We followed a strict plan, worked at a comfortable pace and were methodical in our approach.  All of this meant that the project went without any hitches and we were able to complete the task safely.

Sunset on the final day

Sunset on the final day

The scenery was absolutely stunning.  Luckily the weather held out for the entirety of the project which made working easier and also meant that the photos looked great.  I look forward to the next part of the project.