While for most people the idea of retirement means a walk in the park, this has been anything but the case for Keith and Joanne Thompson. In March 2020, the couple settled into a 5.7 hectare lifestyle property just outside Feilding: but they had a mission in mind.
“We’ve always enjoyed planting trees, but it was largely exotics for timber, with smaller numbers of amenity trees and natives,” explains Keith. “This move, though, was our chance to plant native trees and shrubs and make our own small contribution towards restoring biodiversity and carbon sequestration.”
Much of Keith and Joanne’s acreage consists of a steep continuous gully: this was subdivided from a larger farm and in the past grazed sheep and cattle. Almost two and a half hectares has now been fenced for native planting, with assistance from Horizons Regional Council.
“Before leaving our previous property, we collected native seedlings and seeds from our own place and that of a neighbour,” says Keith. “After moving, we continued to collect seed and established our own nursery, which has now contributed over 5,000 native plants to our project.”
Keith and Joanne say they were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to grow many of the plant species, and enjoyed the ability to experiment slightly more than if their seedlings were all purchased.
In the 2020 season the Thompsons planted an impressive 3,800 trees, shrubs and smaller natives including carex species, toitoi and wharariki/mountain flax in the riparian strip, and a mix of trees and shrubs on the slope.
While Keith and Joanne undertook most of the plant propagation, site preparation, and weed control personally, they were delighted to receive assistance with planting from family members and friends. “They agree that the project is worthwhile, and have been keen to contribute,” Keith says.
The couple have also received advice from Trees That Count’s Regional Advisor team, along with 100 funded eco-sourced native trees generously funded by Mazda New Zealand.
Part of the Thompsons’ keen passion comes from a strong understanding of the benefits of native planting. “Although we were aware that natives are more difficult to establish than most exotics, we were keen to create an environment attractive to native birds and to establish an area of bush that would become a permanent part of the local landscape. Also, natives are a better option for long-term sequestration of carbon than exotic trees,” notes Keith.
The 2021 season has seen Keith and Joanne not only fill gaps from last year’s planting, but complete the remainder of the 2.4ha section with another 3,300 plantings. The work doesn’t stop there, with a strong commitment to weed and rabbit control to ensure the plantings thrive.
“We also have a collection of natives in our nursery that can plug any gaps in 2022, and seedlings of larger tree species that we can plant for enrichment over the next few years.These include rātā, tawa, kauri, hinau and miro, as well as additional tōtara, pigeonwood and tītoki.”
The Thompsons are very aware that they are part of a wider movement of native tree planters across Aotearoa. “We believe that trees are an important component of a healthy planet: and while our efforts alone are hardly significant, hopefully they will be part of a much larger native restoration effort nationwide.”
“We are motivated by the statement by Edmund Burke, an 18th century philosopher and politician who said, ‘Nobody made a greater mistake than he who would do nothing, because he could only do a little’.”