Spotlight on Jo Ritchie, Rotoroa Ecologist
4th October 2012
This month, we profile one of the special people involved in
Rotoroa's environmental restoration. Jo Ritchie is currently
business manager for Treescape Environmental, and has been
instrumental in returning Rotoroa to its former glory, but if you
ask Jo to describe what she does, you don't get the answer you'd
"I am like a spider in a web," explains Jo, who joined Treescape
in 2010 after lengthy stints at DoC and various sanctuaries around
New Zealand, including Stewart Island and Tawharanui. "I am
constantly linking people and ideas together to make projects
For Rotoroa, Jo acts as the island's ecologist. She has
coordinated the planting of 400,000 trees, manages a major ongoing
weed and pest control programme and is now focussed on bringing
back native birds, rare plants and reptiles to the island.
"I got involved with Rotoroa in 2009 and followed a planting
plan developed by Boffa Miskell and adapted it using the idea of
mirror plantings as we found out what species survived best on the
island," says Jo. Like many small islands, Rotoroa presented
a challenge to its ecologists. Wind swept, with poor soil, the
island is a difficult environment to replant.
"It's very exposed with the marine and salt environment
extending over the whole island," explains Jo. "Because of this, it
would probably originally would have been a pohutakawa forest and
would have had a 'ring of fire' in summer when the trees were in
bloom." Mirror planting, where species are selected on the basis of
their hardiness and prevalence in similar conditions, was selected
as a strategy to help ensure Rotoroa's fledgling forests would
"Mirror planting is just a term to try and help people
understand why particular species have been chosen and what that
collection of species might look like in 50 to 100 years' time,"
explains Jo. "It's often hard for people to visualise or be
confident that what you are planning will work. So with Rotoroa, I
found coastal sites on Waiheke that had a similar aspect and
exposure to Rotoroa, visited them and made a list of key species."
Together with Rotoroa Island Trust project manager John Gow, the
pair visited comparable bays by boat to see what Rotoroa might one
day look like.
This strategy has seen up to 50 species of native tree planted
on Rotoroa, from Jo's Waiheke pohutakawa, to kowhai, cabbage trees,
flax, karaka and manuka. The intention is to encourage bird life
that will help reseed the island independently, and create shelter
for more sensitive canopy species like puriri and kohekohe further
down the track.
"What we want to end up with is a seamless planting that blends
with the remnant bush on the island, but one that is filled with
bird song and happy people!"
And for Jo, people are essential to the enjoyment she gets from
her work and the success of the projects she's involved with.
"My work is important to me because I love where I live and I
feel I have a responsibility to do what I can to help our unique
natural environments survive and flourish. People are an integral
part of that. Managing our environment is about understanding and
accepting that everything is connected to everything else - people
and the environment go hand-in-hand. It's only by expanding
opportunities for people to be involved in our wonderful, unique,
natural places, that we will succeed in sustaining our environment
into the future. Projects like Rotoroa are important because they
celebrate what is best about New Zealand."
Jo continues to work with the Rotoroa Island team, annually
surveying the success of the previous year's plantings and
developing future planting plans based on their success. She
estimates that over 200 people have been involved with the
conservation programme on Rotoroa.