Two Northland environmental groups say swamp kauri mining in the Far North is pushing a rare native orchid toward extinction.

Much of the population of the fragile Thelymitra ahipara, one of only two native species of sun-orchids, has been wiped out by what is probably illegal swamp kauri excavation, the Northland Environmental Protection Society (NEPS) claims.

The NEPS and Far North branch of Forest and Bird are calling for tougher measures to protect wetland environments.

Any wetland with threatened species - such as the critically endangered native orchid - is protected from drainage and swamp kauri mining, Fiona Furrell, NEPS chairwoman, said.


"This could only happen by illegal digging," Ms Furrell said of recent findings the orchid has disappeared at sites damaged by what appears to be kauri extraction.

"Illegal swamp kauri trade could be stopped if the Far North District Council, Northland Regional Council and the Ministry of Primary Industries actually did the enforcement work we pay them to do."

Thelymitra ahipara grows in peat bogs near Ahipara, Karikari Peninsula and Kaimaumau. Growing up to 40cm tall when in flower, it has a pale purple stem with fleshy green bracts. It's pale blue or mauve coloured flower buds are 1-1.5cm across and it flowers in October and November.

Dean Baigent-Mercer, chairman of Far North Forest and Bird, said that as well as Northland's remaining wetlands being degraded by swamp kauri mining, threatened species of plants, birds and geckos are being hit hard.

Not all swamp kauri is illegally sourced as the the Ministry of Primary Industries issues permits for the extraction of some.

Millions of cubic metres of swamp timber from Far Northland wetlands are stockpiled at the Ruakaka yard of Oravida Kauri, Mr Baigent-Mercer said.

An "industry insider" had estimated there were 80,000 tonnes of swamp kauri stockpiled at the Oravida yard, at an average worth of $5000-$8000 a cubic metre, he said.

"Where is the money going? During the Press political debate this week Prime Minister John Key said Northland new jobs would come from exploration and mining. But mining of swamp kauri has been in full swing, particularly for the last four years, and what real advantage has the district seen?"

Oravida Kauri did not respond to questions about its stockpile or sources of swamp kauri.

The husband of recently resigned Justice Minister Judith Collins, David Wong-Tung, is a director of the Oravida Group which exports New Zealand meat, wines, seafood, fruit, dairy products and swamp kauri to China.