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From little seedlings to big dreams for Waikato farmer

Ian Brennan doesn’t think small. Since he and wife Trisha moved across the globe from Edinburgh to Cassie’s Farm, an 87ha block near Cambridge in the Waikato, they have added an astonishing 49,000 native trees to the property — 15,500 with the help of environmental charity Trees That Count.

While in the midst of preparations to plant another 17,000 trees this June, Ian has the big picture in mind. 

“Native birds may feed or roost in a tree, but a breeding population requires a forest”, he says. 

“Trees don’t protect freshwater quality or prevent erosion on steep land — forests do. A forest is more than the sum of its trees.”

As grazing is marginal, and fencing for riparian planting is impractical on their steep property, Ian and Trisha have decided to retire entire gullies into forest. Planting began in 2007: by 2021 they will have finished planting the steepest 35 hectares of their farm, though monitoring and maintenance will be ongoing for five to seven years until canopy closure is achieved.

Their farm lies at the top of two catchments. Rain falling to the west of the main ridge forms six streams which eventually join the mighty Waikato, while rain landing on the rest of the farm feeds the Waihou and enters the sea at Thames. 

“We have seven streams leaving our farm, but all the water in those streams arrives on the farm as rain. There is nobody upstream from us. If there is E.coli or elevated nutrient levels in any of our streams, we know it happened on our land.”

This year, Cassie’s Farm will receive 5000 native trees from Trees That Count for planting, bringing their total to 17,000 native trees scheduled for planting this season. Ian is hopeful that, despite the delays presented by the weeks of lockdown, planting will go ahead as planned this winter. 

Ian is already working closely with nurseries and planting crews to ensure planting can proceed safely, with everyone involved following necessary health and safety measures and social distancing requirements.

The work at Cassie’s Farm is a credit to not only Ian and Trisha, but also the incredible number of New Zealanders who have funded and gifted native trees through the Trees That Count marketplace which have supported their passion project.