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Sustainable Wairarapa’s future-focused new hire

Sustainable Wairarapa [SWI], which has done impressive, largely unheralded, environmental work in the valley for over 20 years, is taking a major step in 2024.

With financial assistance from the Masterton Trust House Foundation and the Masterton Trust Lands Trust, the organisation has hired Erica Jar as its part-time administrator, with a major emphasis on communications.

Erica Jar is taking a year’s leave of absence from Solway College, where she is a teacher of the agriculture/horticulture and biology curricula. She is also president of the not-for-profit incorporated society, Biology Educators of Aotearoa New Zealand [BEANZ].

With a BSc degree from Massey University, majoring in genetics and microbiology, she gained first class honours in microbiology. She also has a Diploma in Marketing and, during almost eight years in the UK from 1998, worked for Roche Diagnostics, becoming marketing manager in the field of DNA extraction technology, real-time/quantitative PCR, and molecular biology.

“Making an environmental contribution to the community has always been important to me,” she says, “and I have been rehabilitating a QEII covenanted remnant kahikatea bush area at Solway College for several years.”

To date, SWI has involved small groups largely working independently to tackle a range of environmental projects including stream and wetland restoration, recycled water farm irrigation feasibility, and the monitoring of the region’s bat, katipō, weta, and other invertebrate populations.

Erica Jar’s role will be to ensure more co-ordination of activities and to search out funding opportunities so that SWI’s projects can be maintained. Much of her communications work will be aimed at promoting SWI to potential volunteers for assistance with the organisation’s diverse range of activities.

One project will survey the presence of a particular lizard, the northern spotted skink [Oligosoma kokowai], which has a declining and possibly small population. These endemic lizards are important pollinators of plants that could also be lost if they disappear. There are two known populations in the lower North Island, one at Baring Head and the other at the Taratahi Lizard Sanctuary in the Wairarapa.

Many Wairarapa records are historical, with the most recent outside of Baring Head covering the mid-1990s to early 2000s. Anecdotal evidence suggests that spotted skinks still appear to be in sustainable numbers at Baring Head, probably due to the decade-long pest-management programme implemented by Greater Wellington Regional Council.

The plan was to re-survey for northern spotted skinks at 10 locations – Owhanga Station, Wai Ngai, Flat Point, Honeycomb Rock, Glenburn Station, Glendhu Rocks, Pahaoa, Cape Palliser, Ruapokoputuna, White Rock, and Turakirae Head – to see how they have fared in the 20 plus years since the last survey to determine which populations remain sustainable.

Unfortunately, with the small number of volunteers available it will not be possible to do this, so two locations have been chosen: Glenburn Station and Cape Palliser. These have the best potential for northern spotted skink populations to have survived.

Erica Jar hopes more volunteers will mean it won’t be necessary to pare back other projects SWI has lined up. To contact her at Sustainable Wairarapa, email [email protected]

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