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Taniwha to tōtara on Saddle Hill

West of Dunedin, the iconic Saddle Hill overlooks the Taieri Plains. The land has been variously known as the remains of a taniwha, part of an extinct volcano complex, a coal mining seam and quarry, and more recently, a Significant Natural Landscape.

10ha of the Morrisons’ 16ha farmland block falls under the Significant Natural Landscape designation, and the family’s aim is to systematically restore the majority of the land—previously mostly marginal farmland, with about 4ha in kānuka—to original native bush.

“We’re committed to quality planting, and want the 2500 native trees we’ve received from Trees That Count this year to be the first stage in returning this land to its original state,” says Joe.

The Morrisons purchased their block in 2005, and initially established a small planting surrounding the house. Grazing the land with sheep and cattle was originally the easiest way to keep grass under control, but as time went by the family wanted to make more of a commitment to enhance, rather than simply maintain, their environment.

“The idea of planting the land back into native trees sounded good, but always felt daunting and also financially challenging,” admits Joe. “Our local Ribbonwood Nursery put us in touch with local advice from UpFront Environmental, and also Trees That Count.

Having trees funded by businesses like Z Energy, Mazda, Simplicity, and ASB through the Trees That Count marketplace helps make the planting a reality. With the help of these groups, it’s still a major commitment—but it’s achievable.”

The Morrisons are now focusing their attention on a three hectare paddock that is steep, prone to slips, contains several springs, and is also mostly fenced. It also forms a logical wildlife corridor, connecting bush blocks to the east and west.

This year’s plantings in the corridor include twelve native tree species such as tī kōuka, kōtukutuku, tōtara and kahikatea, along with flaxes and grasses: all of which are consistent with what would have originally grown in the ecological district. While UpFront have assisted with the hard labour of planting, there’s still plenty for the Morrisons to do to keep the area thriving.

“We’re investing significantly in improving the fencing and conducting long-term pest control strategies,” Joe explains. “Ultimately we’d like to put a covenant on the land to protect the trees in the future.”

“We hope that the planting will inspire others in the area to start on their own planting journey; and we also hope that it’s enjoyed by all who view Saddle Hill on a daily basis.”

“We have really only just started the work, but in the short term we’re supporting local nurseries and businesses through the eco-sourcing, planting, and maintaining work.

Besides that, there’s the long term environmental benefits: it’s marginal farmland at best, and planting it into natives is a far better use of the land. We’re starting to imagine what it will look like in five, ten, and even fifty years.”