Almighty Johnsons help local ecosystems

Cameron and Raul Johnson share the same surname and a passion for restoring biodiversity across the New Plymouth district and Aotearoa.

The student interns have been working with NPDC since mid-December and have spent the summer studying flora and fauna in the district’s parks, reserves and along the Waiwhakaiho River valley.

The duo’s research can now be used by NPDC to create a planting programme along the river with the aim of bringing back native species like whio (blue ducks) and gold-striped geckos and to boost native trees and plants in urban areas.

Raul, who has just completed a degree in Zoology at Otago University, says he has enjoyed his time in New Plymouth so much that he has decided to stay and is now looking for an ecology or conservation job.

His project involved surveying urban New Plymouth for remnant bush and identify planting sites for native flora.

“I had been to New Plymouth a couple of times before but exploring all the parks, walkways and reserves has helped me see what a great place it is,” Raul says. 

“I’m hoping this project will help NPDC to improve flora and fauna around the urban area which we’re gradually losing. A restoration strategy will make this native vegetation sustainable for generations to come.”

The New Plymouth urban area has 8.9 per cent of native bush, making it the most bio-diverse city in New Zealand (the average is just 2 per cent).

To stop species declining, 10 per cent of vegetation needs to be native and Raul’s study has identified locations to hit that target.

NPDC is now keen to work with the community and work the project into its planting programme.

Cameron, who is in his final year of his Ecology and Biodiversity degree at Victoria University, had never been to New Plymouth before his internship but now knows the Waiwhakaiho very well after 10 weeks of trekking the valley from the river mouth to Egmont National Park.

“It’s been challenging. It’s a long river to trek each day and it’s been pretty hot as well,” Cameron says.

“But it’s also been a hugely rewarding experience and these projects are what I want do in my life.

“It’s been fantastic working with the NPDC team and I hope this project will help make a difference and can be used to create an ecological corridor to bring back native fish, reptiles and birds to the Waiwhakaiho valley.”

NPDC worked with Waikato University to bring the pair to the district for the summer and the internships were funded by scholarships from the George Mason Charitable Trust.

“These projects have very much been a win-win,” NPDC Group Manager Strategy Liam Hodgetts says.

“We now have two pieces of vital research which will help us improve biodiversity and urban ecosystems while Cameron and Raul have invaluable experience of using their studies in the real world.”

Professor Bruce Clarkson, Deputy Vice Chancellor Research at Waikato University, said they were hoping to offer more student scholarships next year.

“We are pleased to be collaborating with NPDC and Wild For Taranaki on understanding how to better manage New Plymouth’s indigenous nature. Funding support from the George Mason Trust made it possible for us to offer the summer student scholarships.”

The pair are just two of the many student interns who come to work with NPDC each summer to get valuable on-the-job experience. NPDC employed about 10 other interns who worked with a variety of teams including Parks, Transportation, Property and Planning and the TSB Festival of Lights.

What is an ecological corridor?

·         This is a thin stretch of uninterrupted native bush.

·         Native animals use it to migrate to Egmont National Park.

·         Increased native vegetation is good for the river as well; it filters out nutrients from farm run-off, improving water quality.

·         It provides a habitat for native fauna like whio (blue ducks) and gold striped geckos.

·         An ideal ecological corridor runs for at least 50 metres on either side of the river.

New Plymouth’s urban ecosystems: By the numbers

·         10% of vegetation needs to be native to stop species decline

·         New Plymouth currently has 8.9% of native/remnant plants, the most for any NZ city

·         Most NZ cities have an average of just 2% of native bush

·         35.4ha of urban land in New Plymouth needs native plants to hit the 10% figure

·         Weed control, indigenous planting and maintenance will help the district hit 10%


Caption: Raul Johnson, left, and Cameron Johnson have spent the summer on projects to improve urban ecosystems and ecology in the Waiwhakaiho River valley.