News that the fungal disease myrtle rust has arrived in Northland is a "dreadful blow" for a region still grappling with kauri dieback, the Northland Conservation Board says.
Myrtle rust, discovered at a Kerikeri nursery last week, can attack any plants in the myrtle family, which includes native trees such as the pohutukawa, rata and manuka, as well as commercial crops such as feijoa. It infects young leaves, causing them to curl up and die.
Chairman Willie Wright said the find meant Northlanders would have to be more aware and vigilant than ever about conservation issues affecting the region.
Board members were "devastated and saddened" when they heard the news, he said.
"There was an air of uneasiness and disquiet. It was like losing a loved one or having something very special taken from us," he said.
With the region's kauri forests under threat from kauri dieback disease, the discovery of myrtle rust was "another dreadful blow for Tai Tokerau".
Mr Wright urged all Northlanders to get behind efforts to halt the spread of the disease by being vigilant, inspecting their plants, photographing any plant that might be infected and notifying MPI immediately on 0800 80 99 66.
Dean Baigent-Mercer, Northland conservation advocate for Forest and Bird, said the best thing concerned Northlanders could do was to carry on with their work protecting native ecosystems.
"Right now we don't know where or how quickly myrtle rust will spread. The Australian experience was of rapid spread between tropical Queensland and Tasmania," he said.
"I think the best thing we can do is carry on making native ecosystems as resilient as possible. That means high-quality pest control targeting all the major introduced pests.
"When native forests are in good heath with low or no pests they can have much more natural resistance to something new. Native trees that are weakened by years of damage from possums, deer or goats have less capacity to deal with another attack."
The Kerikeri infestation is thought to started from wind-blown spores from Australia, where the disease has been present since 2010.
The Northland Conservation Board offers advice and community feedback to the Department of Conservation.
DoC staff in Northland are continuing to inspect vulnerable stands of pohutukawa around the region for signs of the disease. As of Monday the fungus had not been found in any trees in the wild.