Protecting New Zealand's natural biodiversity

By Pamela Jolly  August 3rd, 2023

Invasive wilding pines pose a serious threat to native diversity and the iconic landscapes of New Zealand, but dedicated volunteers are stepping up to the challenge of keeping wilding pines at bay and preventing them from establishing monocultural dead zones. Notably, one organisation has found an innovative way to turn the removed pines into sustainable oil.

The introduction of imported pines or conifers, like the Douglas Fir, to New Zealand in the 1880s was primarily for timber purposes. Unfortunately, many of these introduced species have adapted to the local environment and grown rapidly, displacing native plants, reducing biodiversity, and creating potential fire hazards.

The invasive trees tend to grow densely, depriving other plants of essential sunlight, water, and nutrients. They also release a vast number of seeds each year, capable of spreading over long distances to place fast growing saplings into hard-to-reach locations, necessitating expensive equipment like helicopters for removal.

“Areas vulnerable to invasion include native tussock grasslands and native bush, mountains, pastoral farmland and areas with low-growing native plant communities such as geothermal and coastal sites,” said Biosecurity New Zealand’s Sherman Smith, manager of the National Wilding Conifer Control Programme.

“Vulnerable animal and plants species that inhabit these areas are often forced out when wilding conifers establish in these locations."

To effectively manage the spread of wilding pines, Queenstown-based non-profit organisation Whakaitpu Wilding Control Group devised an enterprising plan. They divided the upper slopes of an at-risk area into 48 plots and invited volunteers, including businesses, families, and individuals, to take responsibility for clearing these plots of wilding pine.

Sue Rose, from Whakatipu Wilding Control Group says approximately 300 volunteers have accepted this challenge, removing pines from one-hectare plots along the Ben Lomond track in the hills of Queenstown, South Island. Each plot manager is tasked with preventing wind-blown seeds and wilding spread within their designated area. Thanks to this collaborative effort, an intense infestation is gradually being contained and reduced.

Recognising the environmental impact of the invasive Douglas Fir, the New Zealand company, aōTERRA, owned by the American health and beauty organisation, dōTERRA, saw an opportunity. They collect needles and saplings from the wilding pines to produce Douglas Fir essential oil through distillation. This not only reduces the spread of new wilding trees but also delivers a sustainable product.

Maintaining the biodiversity of New Zealand’s natural landscapes demands continuous effort and dedication. As our planet experiences rising temperatures, the value of innovative solutions like these cannot be underestimated. Educating and engaging locals, establishing sustainable outlets, mitigating fire hazards, and protecting biodiversity all contribute significantly to safeguarding our precious natural environments.

How you can help

  • Plant native plants to foster habitat for native wildlife and garden responsibly. National Tree Day has just passed, but any day can be a tree day!

  • Consult the Australian Native Plants Society plant database or council to find the most suitable plant options.

  • Choose low flammable natives to help protect your property.

  • Volunteer your time to help control invasive species and plant more natives or donate to the Seedling Bank to support community groups undertaking this important work.

Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.

Pamela Jolly

Pamela is a Marketing Communications professional with over 10 years experience working for both agencies and organisations in communications, travel, finance and retail industries. Pamela loves to be in nature riding a bike, skiing, appreciating the trees at her local park or exploring wild places abroad with her family.

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