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A Nelson gem: Kelly's Conservation Forest

Nelson farmer Lindy Kelly

Nelson farmer Lindy Kelly is dedicated to protecting and restoring native bush for future generations.



Kelly’s Conservation Forest is a unique haven of native bush. At the 11 hectare gem in the heart of Nelson, each planting — and its ongoing care — has been lovingly overseen by luminary Lindy Kelly and her team of volunteers. Home to over a hundred different endemic species of plant, as well as a plethora of native birds, lizards, insects and fish, the sanctuary more than deserves its ‘High Rarity’ score.

For more than 30 years, Lindy, her late husband Joe, and their family have laboured to restore the pre-European dated bush, clearing and replanting to grow the area to four times its original size. The Kellys bought the farm from the Burrough Family, who cared for the forest for 73 years previously. Both families believe the bush to be special in terms of heritage and whanaunatanga. “We came here 34 years ago, so I’ve spent half my life working on it now. I’ve got ten grandchildren who love coming to visit; the six that live locally adore being part of our open days and showing visitors around. It’s so important to engage the next generation and to make them as passionate as we are about protecting the environment, and enhancing it if possible.”

After losing her husband Joe in a farming accident, Lindy, who is now in her late sixties, farms cattle on the property alone and does a large amount of the restoration, maintenance and planting work herself, with the support of volunteers and community. The Department of Conservation covenant now placed on the land, protecting it forever, is testament to Lindy’s passion and commitment to conservation — although Lindy attributes much of the land’s legacy to the people around her. “It’s been a team effort. We, the Kelly family, could not have achieved this scale of restoration without our community support system.”

The original work on the Forest is all too familiar to every gardener: clearing weeds and gorse from the gully surrounding the bush. The family then progressed to replanting around the original natives, leading to the lush growth seen on the property today. Mature tawa, tītoki and mataī line the lowland, while 18 species of native bird, including the highly threatened mohua, roam the forest. Home to the green gecko, giant earthworms and Parera ducks, Kelly’s bush also serves as a food source for kererū, who feed on tawa berries. Rare shells of the Powelliphanta (giant snail) have been located in the forest, inspiring hope that the species still exists.

To support their re-planting work, Kelly’s Conservation Forest propagates and grows natives on site. They have also received support from 733 funders — organisations such as Honda New Zealand, Z Energy, and Colgate-Palmolive, and hundreds of individuals — through Trees That Count. “Before getting the funding from Trees That Count I was only able to plant 1000 trees a year, which is what I’d managed to grow on the farm or the few I’d been given. It was a very slow process. Being given 5000 through the Trees That Count marketplace allowed me to plant a whole paddock at a time. It meant I didn’t have to cover the big expense of fencing out a smaller area, so it’s made a huge difference.”

Visits ranging through school and community planting days, walking groups, Guides and Scouts groups to open days, mean that up to 1500 guests enjoy the magic of the bush every year. Trails, bridges and picnic areas are dotted around the forest, welcoming visitors to dwell in the area’s regenerative beauty. Children who planted in the Forest twenty years ago are now bringing their children to do the same, making the Conservation Forest an intergenerational project. Lindy’s contagious passion has permeated through the community, resulting in the magnetic charm and character of the bush.

“It is a beautiful place to be”, Lindy comments. “My greatest reward is seeing other people enjoy it and feel uplifted by the experience.”