Jane Lenting from the South Wairarapa Biodiversity Group (SWBG) understands the importance of small things.  The tiny stems of the native pīngao sand sedge plant which are sprouting on her potting bench are one example. 

The short traplines administered by Predator Free Martinborough and SWBG are another: with only six traps in each line, it takes each volunteer less than an hour to check “their” one and so the traplines are regularly maintained. 

And the small strip alongside Ōkorewa lagoon at Lake Onoke|Lake Ferry, which the SWBG has restored and maintained, is flourishing because the group accepted the physical and functional constraints of the area and worked within those, rather than undertaking a large-scale planting project.

“The water levels at Ōkorewa lagoon are subject to the opening or closing of ‘the cut’ where the lake meets the sea,” says Jane. “There’s only a narrow strip where we can plant: above that it’s too dry and below that it’s too wet. But the plants we’ve put in there are doing really well. We start them off with markers and plant protectors, do plant release and normally do a couple of planting days each year. People really enjoy that, and it’s manageable – we can look after it well.”

The pīngao seedlings are also part of the vision for this area, with a 3-year plan to establish Pīngao plants in a section of the dune area between the lagoon and the sea. The seeds were collected from Whangaimoana in 2022 and those that survive can be planted out after 18 months. 


Pīngao sand sedge seedlings    Image J Lenting

“They’ve been really hard to propagate,” Jane says “and in that first year we didn’t have a great strike rate with the seeds. Some got a fungal disease, some just didn’t come up at all and others didn’t thrive. The seeds want to be out on the beach with sand moving around them – and that’s a hard environment to replicate in a shade house.” 

The group had a second seed-collection day in January 2023 and think they’ll have 150 seedlings from this to plant out next year. “It’s a great coastal restoration plant as it binds and even creates sand dunes,” says Jane. The cultural importance of the pīngao to Maori – especially as a weaving material, the way it creates a great habitat for skinks, and the predominance of marram grass in many coastal areas, are other reasons why the SWBG are keen to re-establish this “wonderful little plant.” The Pīngao Trial Project is sponsored by the Wellington Zoo Trust, and has the objective of improving habitat for native species.

Improving habitat for native species is also a focus for the other projects that the group works on regularly. These include planting and maintaining a natives area on a section of public land adjacent to the Martinborough Golf Course, and running a series of traplines on the village edge. The mustelid traps are currently focussed in areas where kārearea|NZ falcons are known to be nesting. Between 2014 and 2017, Jane led a project which saw 10 kārearea “hack released” into Martinborough vineyards and so she has a vested interest in these local nesting pairs. 

As funding comes through from various supporters such as GWRC, the group purchases traps, sets up a trapline, then finds a volunteer to maintain it. The idea is to eventually have traplines along the whole of the escarpment edge near Martinborough.

The SWBG might take small steps at a time, but it’s clear they’re in it for the long journey, and that there’s nothing small at all about their commitment or aspirations.  Contact SWBG swbg@xtra.co.nz

Ali Mackisack for WaiP2K