Cape Turnagain Endangered Species

November 2017

Farmers, iwi and a Regional Council work to protect rare and endangered species

There’s been a real team effort at Cape Turnagain since the mid 1990’s, to help improve the ecological values of the incredibly special landscape there. The owners of the station then, the Herrick and Elworthy families, led by Robert Herrick and Edward Elworthy, started covenanting and fencing bush in the 1990’s in partnership with the QEII National Trust and Horizons Regional Council. They protected a 24ha block of semi coastal forest first, then a nearby 16ha of forest called Tapui Bush. 

Their third Tautane Station National Trust covenant has protected 111ha of land at Cape Turnagain, which covers the historic Cape, huge areas of hybrid flaxland which includes a seal colony, and a major dune system. The Biodiversity Condition Fund also helped with the Cape Turnagain fencing. Having the covenant in place created a platform to attract further funds for weed control of pampas at the Cape. Money for this work first came from the Condition Fund and lately from the Department of Conservation’s Community Conservation Fund. 


The Conservation Company started pampas control work at the Cape in 2012, when there were thousands of pampas plants spread throughout the landscape, which also contains lots of native toetoe. 

Pampas is a very invasive plant pest, and it spreads more quickly and grows more quickly than the native vegetation says Kay Griffiths of The Conservation Company. “Its seeds are spread by wind, so it is able to be dispersed over a wide area. Areas at the Cape are vulnerable as there are vegetation gaps on the coastal cliffs and the vegetation is low. There were thousands of plants there when we began the work.” 

Tautane lent Kay and her partner Craig Single a large tractor-mounted spray tank and 300m of hose for spraying the larger clumps of pampas. More isolated plants are controlled using a backpack.

They use a mix of glyphosate from 2-5% 1% Pulse and marker dye. “You have to drench the plants. Because pampas is a grass, it grows from the roots. Even little bits can remain alive, so the majority of our follow up work has been spraying little bits left from larger clumps, and spraying seedlings.”

Spraying is best done in autumn and early winter when the pampas is flowering so it can be easily identified from the native toetoe. 

“Pampas generally flowers in autumn, while toetoe flowers between spring and autumn. The pampas flower is taller, more erect, more feathery and a brighter colour than toetoe.” The pampas at the Cape is Cortaderia selloana, which is one of three pampas species. “It is striking and quite beautiful, so you can see why people like them a lot, but in the wrong place they are not so good.” 

The leaves are also different, and ripping them is one of the main ways Kay tells the plants apart. “To rip the leaf of pampas is easy, but it is virtually impossible to rip the leaf of toetoe.”

There are also differences in the colour and ribs on the leaves, and another way to tell them apart is to look at the base of the plant. Pampas has little curls of old leaves, a bit like wood shavings, while toetoe never does. 

“We control the pampas in June because then they are flowering and they stand out against the backdrop of toetoe Austroderia toetoe, which has finished flowering by then. Areas of control are traced using GPS so they can easily be relocated in the following years. 

From thousands of pampas at the start of the project, there are now only hundreds of juvenile plants still coming up and about 100 plants which are small but are large enough to flower. In the last round of control in winter 2016, Kay counted 82 adults and 561 juvenile plants. Tautane is supporting the project and helping with pampas eradication on the buffer area west of the covenant on Tautane. This is included with training about chemical use and spraying for their students. 

Ruth says Horizons will take over funding of this project when the Community Conservation Fund money runs out after 2017. 

Pimelea and a very rare moth:

In early October 2016 Ruth and Kay heard about a rare moth which is found living on the local pimelea at the Cape, Pimelea villosa subspecies arenaria

The Pimelea or sand daphne is rare because there is so little coastal habitat left intact that it likes and which hasn’t been damaged by grazing or people driving over dunes. It lives in the mid to upper dune area with spinifex and pingao, and there’s a couple of healthy populations at the cape.

They remain because the site is fenced and protected from grazing stock but rabbits, goats and possums are still present and pose a continuing threat. There are only about 100 plants left on the site. 

The cryptic little moth is called Notoreas perornata “Cape Turnagain” and it lives only at this site, feeding on the pimelea. It’s described as nationally critical by Mike Thorsen of the Endangered Species Foundation, and he ranks it in the most threatened 50 species in New Zealand. 

The moth lays its eggs in the developing buds, and when its little larvae hatch, they leafmine down the plant and drop off, pupating in the sand underneath the plant. The moths have two flights a season, one in mid October to mid November, the other in early February to early March. 

Scientists have put in a bid to do more genetic work on the moth and its host plant. Kay and Ruth have only managed one quick look for the moth so far, but will certainly do some more searching over summer, and hope to all work together to create a management plan to ensure the survival of the moth and its habitat, the pimelea plant. 

Horizons can assist farmers keen to protect special areas of their properties, give free advice, and educate landowners on the benefits of protecting areas like this. Potentially there is help with funding for retirement fencing. “Ring us and get us involved in your project”, Ruth says. She describes Cape Turnagain as a bit of coastal utopia, with phenomenal vegetation creating great habitat.