More than 500 trees have been planted on the Catlins coast to improve the environment for the endangered yellow-eyed penquin.
Students from environmental management courses at Otago University and the Southern Institute of Technology were among more than 50 people who planted the trees at Te Rere private scientific reserve on the Catlins coast.
Staff from the Department of Conservation, Forest & Bird members and volunteers also helped out.
Part-time caretaker Fergus Sutherland talked about the history of the reserve and how the adjacent farmer supported the establishment of a reserve when they realised the vulnerable state of the yellow-eyed penguin.
Southland Forest & Bird began planting natives nearly three decades ago on the grass covered paddocks, next to the sea coast, so the penguins had access to nesting sites. They were private birds and did not appreciate neighbours.
The revegetation has continued with annual plantings for about 27 years, but a disastrous fire in 1995 destroyed much of the well-established cover, with some nesting birds burnt in the fire.
However, the vegetation recovered remarkably well and about 50 penguin pairs are continuing to use the 70-hectare reserve, out of about 500 breeding pairs on the southeastern coast of the South Island.
The revegetation project not only protected the yellow-eyed penguin, it also provided habitat for other native species such as fernbirds, falcons, tui, bellbirds and fantails, Sutherland said.
A large area of native plantings had provided a safe place for animals, he said.
"The little blue penguin, sea lions and seals have taken up residence along with about 12 titi, or muttonbirds, using the reserve site for landing and hopefully later they will breed here, which is exciting."
Forest & Bird's Brian Rance co-ordinated the weekend's working bee, with plants sourced from Pukerau Nursery.
With the trees planted, the workers helped check traps for stoats, rats and possums which continue to impact the penguins, particularly the juveniles.
- The Southland Times