Last updated 05:00 22/01/2013
Phil Twyford is walking the talk.
The Te Atatu MP put on his walking shoes and tackled the 70km Hillary Trail through the Waitakere Ranges in a bid to raise public awareness of the kauri dieback disease.
Mr Twyford was joined along the way by scientists who have been studying the disease he says is both heartbreaking and enlightening.
"To get to take on the trail with these scientists has been like getting a crash course in botany. The funding for the research into the disease is due to finish midway through next year," he says.
"At this point we don't know much about the problem but there needs to be government funded research into the science and a campaign to teach the public about what they need to do."
Mr Twyford says the eco system a Kauri exists in is very specialised and up to 70 other plant species rely on them, all of which would be wiped out if the Phytophthora taxon agathis (PTA) disease keeps spreading.
The five-year research programme is primarily funded by $4.8 million of government money but the Primary Industries Ministry says it will not seek another round of funding.
Eleven per cent of Kauri in the ranges are affected and no cure has been found.
Cheryl Krull from Auckland University has been studying the effect that wild pigs have on how the disease is transported.
"At any one time there is about 400kg of soil being transported around the ranges by pigs. This disease comes from spores which are in the soil, as soon as they go from one place to another you risk increasing the spread of the disease," she says.
"From the work I have done we could theoretically wipe out the pigs in the ranges if we undertook a cull every two months."
The disease gets into the trees and prevents nutrients from being absorbed, which has been shown to kill saplings in three weeks.
Auckland Council biosecurity adviser Nick Waipara says one of the problems is the field trials take longer for Kauri than other trees because it takes decades before they reach maturity.
"We have only just moved from the lab into doing field testing and we are still putting pieces of the jigsaw together. Because 70 per cent of the affected trees are along the walking tracks it shows us that a major problem is people transporting it, whether that's via their shoes, mountain bike tyres or dogs," he says.
"We have cleaning stations set up at the entrances to the tracks but at best 50 per cent of people use them and at worst 20 per cent of people use them."
Mr Twyford says one of the major tragedies is that the Kauri that were painted by Colin McCahon at the Colin McCahon House have to be removed because they cannot be saved.
"These ranges are a true treasure for us, we need to save these trees.
"I have seen over the last few days just how remarkable this area is. It has been a pleasure to do this walk, especially because I got to take my 22-year-old son Harry along with me," he says.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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