Boost in funding for myrtle rust research

Science and Innovation Megan Woods at the Auckland Botanic Gardens. - Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

The fight to stop kauri dieback and myrtle rust has been given a multi-million dollar boost by the government.

A new research fund of $13.75 million - to be spent over three years - was announced by the Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Megan Woods today at the Auckland Botanic Gardens.

There's still very little known about the two pathogens which have had a devasting impact on New Zealand forests.

The Waitakere Ranges is currently one of the worst hit by kauri dieback - a rāhui was put in place by the local iwi Te Kawerau-A-Maki for the last year and tracks closed in a bid to stop it spreading.

Ms Woods said the funding was about finding a way to save our forests.

"Both of these pathogens are endareging some of our most iconic and culturally significant trees - trees that are critical to our bioligical heritage and to our culture identity."

Myrtle rust will receive $5m over three years with research for kauri dieback receiving $8.75m.

This is on top of research funding of $4.7m already allocated to kauri dieback this year .

Ms Woods said the funding will speed up the development of ways to better manage the spread of the diseases.

"Our best researchers will continue to work with their international colleagues with Māori with industry with communities to develop new ways of reducing damage to vulnarable plants and landscapes."

Melanie Mark Shadbolt is the Māori director of the National Science Challenge, which will lead the research project.

"We're probably quite a wee-way from understanding how to actually kill it - but we can look for alternatives to stopping the spread."

She said more needed to be learnt from the rahui currently in place in the Waitakere Ranges.

"I personally think that our wider community see rāhui as a Māori hocus pocus kind of witchcraft type thing which is of no benefit no use.

"And our communities don't understand that's it effectively another environment management tool which Māori have used for decades and centuries."

Forest & Bird's Central North lsland regional manager Dr Rebecca Stirnemann said she was relieved the government was finally hearing the voice of conservationists.

"Conservation is being prioritised and it's not just primary industries which is receiving the funding for research on invasive species."

Dr Stirnemann believes this funding needs to look into how the disease is threatening other trees.

"What other than kauri is being hit by with this disease - we're worried that there's other species like tanekaha which is being affected."

The funding will be run through the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge.

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