Trisha and I bought this place because it has extensive views and looked like it would be a beautiful place to live, ride horses and work for ourselves. Even before we left Edinburgh, Trisha knew she’d start her own equestrian business in New Zealand, continuing what she had been doing in Scotland before we left.
All I knew at that time was that I didn’t want to work in IT (or any kind of desk job) anymore. Long story short, I convinced her we should consider raising our sights from a lifestyle block and see if we could afford a farm of some kind.
It would be true to say I became a farmer to avoid getting a job, assuming we’d be able to make a living off 225 acres. Our calculations about its potential to generate income were pretty sketchy though, and in hindsight extremely naive. That was December 2005.
We were so wrapped up in the adventure that it took us about a year to realise much of our land was too steep to sustainably graze cattle. The hillsides were falling apart and crumbling into the streams and our topsoil and fertility were being washed out to sea.
2007 saw us planting our first native trees and shrubs. Each winter we’d plant whatever unproductive or odd shaped pieces of land we could afford to do. Usually 1500-2000 trees per winter. We realised very early, that it would make good ecological sense to plant all of our steep land back into native forest.
Even though we could never afford to plant 35 steep hectares, I still daydreamed regularly about how I’d do it – if money ever fell from the sky. Then one day it did.
Out of the blue, in 2016 a good friend with contacts applied on our behalf for funding. His application was successful and Trees That Count granted us enough money to plant 7500 trees on 3ha.
This was the first time I’d seen native trees planted at scale by professional planters. The nursery crew of six people arrived each morning with up to 2000 plants and had them all planted by about 2pm when they left. 2000 was as many as I could plant in an entire winter by myself and seeing the planters in action changed the way I operate. Since 2016, instead of spending all winter pottering about on my own, we have a short, sharp planting season and I spend my energy on all the other stuff that goes into making a planting successful, like fencing and weed control.
As I write this in September 2021, we have planted around 70,000 trees to date. We still have about four hectares to plant next winter. After that, the bulk of our steep land (35 hectares) will have been planted. We also have 16ha of existing mature forest fragment protected under QEII covenant and we have constructed several kilometers of tracks through and around all these areas.
Young planted forest needs regular maintenance to prevent it turning into a giant weed patch. Even the established QEII blocks require regular pest control and periodic attention to stop weed incursions and good access tracks make all of this easier.
A good track network makes forest monitoring and maintenance much easier. It also means we can show visitors around in comfort. There has never been a time when people worldwide have been more aware of the challenges facing humanity and the world around us. In New Zealand, we face multiple ecological problems. Biodiversity loss, degraded freshwater and climate breakdown are three near the top of the list and all of them can be improved by establishing more native forest on degraded land.