Local conservation hero sowing the seeds of knowledge for future generations

Fifteen years ago, Te Aroha Drummond liked working in her own garden. Now, she’s one of Aotearoa’s leading Māori seed experts who has just returned from the UK after a week-long residency learning about wild plant biodiversity.

The Okauia local is one of only a very small handful of New Zealanders who have ever been invited into the Kew Garden Millennium Seed Bank underground vault. 

“Public can watch the lab technicians doing their daily work but being able to be in the vault was really special. This is a place that can potentially save lives and save the planet,” she says.

As part of the Seed Bank’s partnership with indigenous communities around the world, the on-site training was attended by participants from Madagascar, Comoros, Greece, Columbia, Mexico, Italy and South Africa.

With her newly honed skills, and support from Te Tira Whakamātaki, Te Aroha is hosting six seed wananaga across Aotearoa, the first just completed in the Waikato.

“Whether we know it or not, we’ve been working with seeds since we could eat apples and spit seeds out of our mouth, or since we could blow dandelions.

“These sessions are generally for people who already work with seeds and want to learn more about seed storage, seed handling, policies, procedures, permissions and partnerships with the government”.

The long-term goal of Te Tira Whakamātaki is to develop mini seed labs right across the motu, with iwi, hapū and local communities looking after their own seeds. 

“We need it! We’re ready,” Te Aroha says. 

In addition to this much-needed seed bank mahi, Te Aroha is a trustee on the newly formed Piako-Waihou Catchment Trust - a recent formation from the Piako Catchment Forum.

The Forum started in 2016 by Anita Richmond as a space for everyone to come together and talk about te Taiao and sustainability. It has since grown to restoration and conservation projects throughout the Matamata-Piako District. Along with a newly formed governance team, the Trust has also hired their first two employees  - Matthew Vare and France Haydon.

Their latest project, in collaboration with Manaaki Kaimai Mamaku, Waikato Regional Council, Matamata-Piako District Council and Ngāti Haua, is connecting the Kaimai with Maungatautari by restoring ancient kahikatea forest fragments.

“I love working with people who love to learn and collect knowledge,” Te Aroha says.

“The best part of my mahi is working with people with a passion or being able to ignite a passion that they didn’t even know they had!”

Te Aroha Drummond and the group of seed experts at the Millennium Seed Bank, UK.