Written by John Williams
In the early days, he says, it was about making a living and paying off the mortgage, but as the business has gone on, being part of the community and being a good neighbour have become more important to him. Also, looking after the planet and getting involved in environmental issues has become a personal goal.
Simon and I are looking out over the beautiful Pukapuka Inlet, in Mahurangi West, just north of Puhoi. We’re up here on a blustery day in June, with a couple of dozen children, parents and teachers from Ponsonby Primary School, as part of the Trees For Survival programme.
Trees for Survival is an environmental education programme which involves young people in growing and planting native trees to restore natural habitats through helping landowners re-vegetate erosion-prone land, improve stream flow and water quality, and increase biodiversity.
"It’s fantastic to see the school children getting their hands dirty, raising these trees from seedlings and now planting them out here at this beautiful location.”
“This is our first year with the programme, and we’re really proud to be involved,” says Simon.
Frankie Hofland, who works for Auckland City Council as part of the Trees For Survival team, is co-ordinating the day’s activities.
“At the participating schools, we grow native trees from tiny seedlings through to the size of the saplings you see here today,” she explains. “Then, during planting season, we come out onto the landowner’s property to plant them.”
We are standing in a narrow gully on the edge of the inlet, just above a large expanse of native mangroves. “As you can see, this particular area has a creek running through it and, importantly, it runs right out into the harbour, so we want to keep this clean and pristine,” she says. Looking back upstream, Frankie points out a large slip that has recently taken out part of the gully wall. “This is the kind of thing we’re trying to prevent.”
Frankie explains that, as part of the programme, the landowner has had to fence off and retire this piece of land from grazing forever. He has also had to take care of any issues with pests. In the case of this piece of land, it’s already cost the landowner, Damian Stanford, around $50,000 to prepare the land and fence it off, although there are incentives available to the council to contribute, says Frankie.
“He is now the custodian of these trees,” she says. “Every year, for the next three years, I’ll come back and assess the property, to check the growth of the trees and the success of the planting.”
The cost doesn’t seem to concern Damian too much, as he feels the Trees For Survival has been a fantastic initiative to get involved with, because it’s allowed him to get the kids involved and give back to the community, and he’s looking forward to enjoying the fruits of what is being sown here today in the years to come.
“This is the second year that this particular school has been here, so they can already see the results of some of their efforts last year,” says Damian.
“Hopefully, as the years go by, they’ll come back here and point and say, hey, this is something I did 15 years ago, and now look at it. It’s going to be fantastic."
“All the trees being planted here today are New Zealand natives. There are cabbage trees and flax, and Manuka, which is great, because we have some beehives on the other side of the hill – so the bees will be happy,” says Damian.
At the same time as these new natives are being planted, Damian says, he’s gradually getting rid of the all the sub-species that have been introduced, replacing them with adult natives, to bring the area back to how it should be and would have been many years ago before the European settlers arrived.
Turning back to watch the planting that’s happening in front of us, Damian says he really enjoys seeing the great reactions from the children. “Some of them have never been onto a farm before… had muddy feet and been followed around by sheep. It’s a great opportunity to see at first-hand what living an actual Kiwi lifestyle is all about.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Simon. “The reward from seeing these children raise the trees from saplings, then come here and plant them and have fun doing it… then talk about coming back to see them once they’re fully matured. That’s the sort of thing that fires me up these days.”
Trees For Survival
Established in 1990 by Noel Holyoake, from Auckland’s Pakuranga Rotary Club, the Trees For Survival programme has now expanded to include 133 schools nationwide, with well over 1.5 million trees planted.
In Auckland, there are currently around 74 participating schools, with the aim to get that number up to around 100. Last year, with the help of those schools, over 60,000 trees were planted at numerous sites, stretching from Pakiri up north and as far south as the edges of the Hunua Ranges.
For more information, or to get involved with this initiative, visit www.tfsnz.org.nz.