Maori land near Kerikeri could be turned into a kauri sanctuary to help protect the species from deadly kauri dieback disease.
Takou 439 Reservation Trust, about 200ha of land at Takou Bay between the Bay of Islands and Matauri Bay, is working with local hapu Ngati Rehia and the Crown research institute Scion to investigate setting up a disease-free kauri sanctuary.
The northern side of the Takou River was once used for kumara gardens but is now dominated by pine and gorse. Using a Department of Conservation grant the trust is clearing the weeds, planting 10,000 native trees and plans to restore wetlands.
A whare hui built in 1935, Whetu Marama, was restored some years ago.
Trust secretary and Te Runanga o Ngati Rehia trustee Nora Rameka said options included setting up a 45ha kauri sanctuary, where the species could be protected from the dieback threatening Northland forests.
The first stage is being funded by a $250,000 grant from the government's Provincial Growth Fund. Ms Rameka said the sanctuary would create employment but, more importantly, would help the young generation take pride in their whenua and become good kaitiaki (guardians).
If Scion found the land was not suitable for a kauri sanctuary it would still be replanted in other native species.
"The project is to enhance our land, to bring back the trees and birds we've lost. The kauri sanctuary is just one part of that vision."
Scion chief executive Julian Elder said scientists would work alongside Ngati Rehia over the next six months to assess the site's suitability, collect soil samples and share know-how about kauri dieback.
Scion would also help Ngati Rehia with a management plan, predator-proof fencing, seed collection and planting, and making sure kauri dieback was not introduced by humans or animals.
Indigenous tree scientist Greg Steward said setting up a sanctuary on a disease-free site with a large number of new plantings — up to 50,000 for a 45ha site — would be a major step forward in protecting the species.
"Introducing kauri from the widest range of populations acceptable to Ngati Rehia will lead to the development of a significant resource where diversity would be a strength, and offer opportunities to manage kauri for a range of cultural, biodiversity and other outcomes," he said.
If tests showed Takou Bay was disease-free much of the sanctuary's work would involve keeping kauri dieback out, including protocols to make sure footwear, seedlings and machinery were clean, and keeping out animals. Takou Bay was within the natural range of kauri, he said.
Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones said the aim was to create an area that was isolated from other pockets of kauri around Northland and wouldn't fall victim to dieback.
"Ngati Rehia has agreed to set aside some of their land and the Crown will give the putea (money)," he said.
* Takou Bayis the reputed resting place of the waka Mataatua, which brought the ancestors of Ngapuhi and other tribes to Aotearoa.