Posted on 01st September, 2015
There is possibly no other coastal tree in the world that flowers with the beauty of a Pohutukawa. Great forests of these trees once supported huge populations of Kaka, Tui, Huia, Hihi and many other nectar-feeding birds.
Trichosurus culpecula, better known as the brush-tail possum is a major enemy of the NZ bush and sadly Pohutukakwa has become one of its favourite foods.
Through no fault of its own, this cute furry marsupial is hunted to death up and down the country. We deliberately go out of our way to run one down on the road.
Many rural children have made good pocket money trapping and selling skins.
You will often hear the saying "Save a tree, kill a possum", "the only good possum is a dead possum", or "the only good possum is in Australia".
Originally brought to New Zealand for the fur trade, the population of possums is often quoted as being around 70 –80 million animals. The impact of possum browsing on Pohutukawa has been well documented in numerous studies.
There is direct evidence that these effects have killed canopy trees. Possums will eat leaves, buds and flowers. One possum can eat 700 leaves in one night. Anyone that has visited Cape Brett over the last five years can see the effects of possum browse in the bush. Many large and very old Pohutukawa trees have been killed. These trees many hundreds of years old still stand as ghostly reminders of a once beautiful forest.
"Project Crimson" was created in the late 80's out of concern for the health and well being of Pohutukaka.
Project Crimson owes its beginnings to the early planting projects started in Whangarei. Our own Northland man Gerry Brackenbury was inspirational in gathering public support. Touring Northland communities Gerry educated people on possum control measures and demonstrated methods and ideas for planting Pohutukawa.
The late 1980's in New Zealand was a time of huge changes to the public service. The new Department of Conservation had just been formed to take over the conservation estate.
Gone were the high prices of the early 80's for possum skins thanks to the world wide anti-fur lobby. Consequently, possum numbers in Northland were soaring and in March 1989 the Department of Conservation released the results of a survey on the health of Pohutukawa.
The main points were: -
1. That only 10 per cent of original Pohutukaka forest remained
2. Its survival was threatened by munching possums and disease.
3. Regeneration was extremely unlikely and limited.
On 21st December 1989 the Minister of Conservation, Mr. Phillip Woollaston launched Project Crimson. One of the key factors in its success was the support and sponsorship by businesses. Corporate sponsorship for species recovery was well established for Kiwi, Kakapo, and Kokako but for plants it was something new.
From its beginnings in Northland, the Project Crimson Trust has spread throughout the country. As Pohutukawa's natural range covers only around quarter of the country from Taranaki north on the west and from East Cape northwards on the east coast Project Crimson has extended its activities to the Northern and Southern tree Rata to ensure that the whole country can receive support and assistance in protecting this beautiful family of New Zealand natives.