Posted By QEII National Trust | December 13, 2022

QEII covenantor, John Cowie was recognised for his contribution to the conservation of threatened plants and restoration of a rare ecosystem last week.   

Plant Conservation Awards are given out biennially by the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network /Rōpū hononga Koiora Taiao ki Aotearoa (NZPCN). John was the recipient of the 2022 Special Award for his work over many decades to protect the pockets of native vegetation and special habitat areas on Ōtāpiri Farm in central Southland. John is a fifth-generation sheep and beef farmer who has registered two QEII open space covenants to protect and restore biodiversity on his farm. 

Jesse Bythell, QEII regional representative for Southland and NZPCN council member says that John is a well-deserved recipient of this award. “John is a quiet leader and known for his ‘lead by doing’ approach,” said Jesse. Although he is humble, he is well known in his community and has an approach that is both inspiring and credible among his farming peers. I know his fellow farmers will be chuffed to see his quiet, hard work recognised by conservationists. 

Riparian forest covenant, featuring ancient lowland ribbonwood which are festooned with Tupeia antarctica, an At Risk native mistletoe and one of John's favourite plants

Some of the many special areas on his property include rare riparian forest and dry forest on limestone and John has combined the legal protection of the QEII covenants with active stewardship with great success. By fencing areas along the Ōtāpiri Stream in a deliberate way that recognises the wild and dynamic nature of the stream, he has preserved the important role it plays in creating conditions necessary for some of the threatened riparian plants to thrive. Because of planting to suppress grass and fencing to exclude stock, natural regeneration of thousands of plants, many of which are threatened, is happening at speed.  
John has also worked with the Department of Conservation to improve the regeneration prospects of several highly threatened plants he has on his farm.  Recently seed has been collected from the riparian covenant for the Hector’s Tree Daisy Lonely Hearts Club, a small QEII National Trust project to enhance fragmented populations of Olearia hectorii (Threatened – Nationally Endangered) found in Southland. Populations of this plant are fragmented from habitat loss and are at risk of inbreeding depression, as many ancient trees do not have a new generation coming through. Plants grown from seed collected at Ōtāpiri Farm will be grown on and young plants will be planted amongst other nearby populations of Hector’s tree daisy. There are six farms contributing seed this season and most populations are within open space covenants registered with QEII.  

John Cowie (left) being presented his award by NZPCN president, John Barkla