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Farmland to forests: a family venture

North of Christchurch, the Curtis family are transforming bare paddocks into lush treescapes alongside their small-scale beef operation.

The Greta Valley Wildlife Corridor was busier than ever during lockdown. The arrival of long-awaited rain in tandem with three extra helpers at home meant planting preparation scaled up, with sites cleared and holes prepared.

Now that restrictions have lifted and local nursery Hurunui Natives has re-opened, Philippa, Dave, and their sons Zach, Sam and Ben have another 150 native trees from Trees That Count in the ground.

“The day we got our 150 trees planted, we saw a kererū in the trees around the house for the first time ever!” Philippa says. “I always felt that the day we attracted kererū in would be the day we knew we'd transformed our property from just grass paddocks to biodiverse habitat.”

In 2008, the family had purchased a corner of an existing sheep and beef farm, which apart from a patch of unfenced native bush, was bare paddocks. Every year since, they have been transforming this landscape through tree planting. The larger original bush area has been fenced off from stock to let it regenerate and expand naturally, while also establishing new pockets of bush around the property.

“We’ve learned a lot along the way,” Philippa notes. “We now grow some trees from seed, and we pot-on and grow-on small root plug trees to keep the costs down. Our trees are eco-sourced, and we have thirteen different varieties, from kānuka to houhere, manatu, ringaringa, and more.”

Philippa, Dave and the children are keen to contribute to the bigger picture of biodiversity in New Zealand. “We want to have native plantings encircling and woven throughout the productive areas of the property, to be a habitat for wildlife and hopefully, if others are doing the same, to be part of a wildlife corridor that criss-crosses NZ,” Philippa says.

“We were just a family team, beavering away with our own hopes and dreams, but thanks to Trees that Count, we feel like we’re part of something bigger now. We are lucky enough to care for some land, and we want to do what we can to ensure that it provides all the ecosystem services it possibly can.”