A Moriori tree carving within a relatively healthy stand of
kopi trees at Taia Bush Historic Reserve on Rekohu (Chatham
Islands). Photo by Ian Barber.
It is hoped recent funding grants will help stave off the
demise of the Chatham Islands' historic tree carvings.
For the past four or five years, researchers and the
community have been warning the uniquely New Zealand
dendroglyphs were about to be lost to high winds and grazing
animals which caused the trees to rot and the carved bark to
While it was thought there were more than a thousand of the
carvings in kopi trees (karaka) in the mid-20th century, a
little over 100 survive today.
University of Otago archaeologist Associate Prof Ian Barber
has been working with the Hokotehi Moriori Trust to record
the carvings and advise on conservation, management and
Dr Barber said even though the carved kopi stands were
fenced, wind exposure continued to affect them.
It had been thought the carvings would die out naturally but
researchers had recently found their demise could be
countered, he said.
A stand of kopi sheltered by pine trees, the Taia Bush
Historic Reserve, showed this.
"There are clear indications that kopi canopy loss and the
rate of demise of carved trees on Rekohu (the largest island
of the Chathams) can be directly related to wind exposure or
This meant it might be possible to improve the health of some
trees with appropriate management and treatment.
"It is hoped these treatments can be applied in time so as to
improve the health of some of the few carved tree trunks and
standard that are left, providing for their survival for at
least several more decades."
Recently, the Lottery Grants Board environment and heritage
fund had granted about $150,000 to the trust for preventive
measures in areas where the trees were in good condition,
trust general manager Maui Solomon said.
The Pacific Conservation and Development Trust had also given
An interim conservation laboratory at Kopinga marae would be
constructed for any trees that needed to be removed. Last
year, eight dead trees were taken to Te Papa so the carvings
could be conserved.
The Department of Conservation had also allocated
"significant" funds towards the Hapupu national historic
reserve, where fewer than 40 trees with recognisable carvings
remained standing, and only two in reasonable health.
Doc Chatham Islands area manager Jim Clarkson said work in
progress included soil testing to see if there was a
connection between soil fertility and the decline of the
trees, and construction of platforms near trees to stop
people touching trees or compressing soil at their roots.
The track to the tree carvings had been realigned to rest
some of the trees which had been viewed for many years.
It was also planned to bring an arborist to the island to
trial removing deadwood or damage from the trees, he said.
"There are a few other things in the pipeline too."