Botany Researcher Heidi Meudt and Collection Manager Antony Kusabs made new collections of forget-me-nots and other plants at some stunning but remote South Island sites in Feb 2020. Take a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to do remote field work, and enjoy some of the rewards of their hard work!
Planning and logistics
Remote field trips take considerable planning, flexibility, team work, and a dash of luck. We rely on previous collections and past experience to guide us. For example, determining which sites to visit to find specific plants, how long to spend at a site, what permission and permits are needed, how to get there (and back) safely, when to go, and what local botanists could come along to assist.
Next, we move on to coordinating the logistics of permits, itinerary, accommodation, food and gear, helicopters (and weight limits), and different teams of people in several different remote areas. Finally, after months of planning, the start date arrives. The plan is about to become reality!
The first site: the Eyre Mountains
To begin, our team of five first flew in to a remote corner of the Eyre Mountains, where we established a base campsite. The weather forecast looked great (what a relief!) and we were excited to have the next two full days to botanise.
The daily routine
Even though the helicopter definitely saved us time, we still worked long days. Thus, to make the most of this special place, our days typically started at 6:30 am. After breakfast, planning and packing, we started our plant search by 8:30 am.
In the field, we head for habitats and areas to survey that are likely to have forget-me-nots based on previous collections and our own experience. And when we do find something, we get pretty excited, and get to work.
We head back to camp around 6 or 7 pm after a full day of tramping, searching and collecting. While some of us prepare dinner on the camp stoves, the others start processing the collections. This involves pressing plant specimens, writing up our notes, and labelling and carefully storing all samples.
A change of plan… And we are off to Fiordland
After three nights in the Eyre Mountains, we regrouped at a backpackers in Te Anau. Although it would take some effort, we knew we needed to change our plans to make the most of a window of good weather. As a result, the next morning we flew to our first site in Fiordland.
Making collections in Fiordland
In Fiordland, the weather (mostly) held while we visited three different sites and camped at two of them.
Our time in the field was very busy, moving between sites and searching for plants. In addition, we collected, identified and pressed new specimens for my research and Te Papa’s herbarium.
A spontaneous and special site
There are not as many collections of forget-me-nots from Fiordland, probably due to its remoteness. We had to choose one site by making a quick group decision in the helicopter after a short fly-over… Did we make the right call?
A combination of luck and collective experience paid off in this instance. For example, we found two species of forget-me-nots that day, including one that is Data Deficient, and heard and saw signs of takahē to boot!
Camping in the Takitimu Mountains
Back in Te Anau again, we were grateful for the luxury of showers and beds after three nights in the Fiordland backcountry. Moreover, a storm passed through, giving us a full day to prepare for the next remote location: the Takitimu Mountains.
This time, four of us flew to a high point in the range, and then worked our way down to our planned campsite, searching for and collecting plants as we tramped.
Check out Collections Online to see the 120 scientific specimens we collected, including many forget-me-nots.
Thanks especially to the Department of Conservation for permits, and to botanists Antony, Santiago, David, Mike, Brian, John and Cara-Lisa. Each of them contributed their time, skills and energy to make this remote field work so successful.