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Future-proof: the Koanui story

When you’ve spent a lifetime on the land every day, ‘retirement’ isn’t really in your vocabulary. Hawkes Bay stud farmer Fred Chesterman has found a fresh focus in recent years, spending his days reforesting their land for future generations.

It began when Fred was introduced to the Heretaunga Tramping Club in 2009: an association which grew more than just a keen love for walking. 

“It’s about the love of native trees,” says Fred, who spends as much time as possible every year exploring Aotearoa’s flora and fauna with the Club. 

It wasn’t long before this passion for native forests ignited action, growing and planting almost 10,000 native trees on the 1200ha Koanui block at Maraetōtara.

Fred has cultivated a small native nursery inside an unused shed, with some plants nurtured from seed collected on the farm. 

When the seedlings reach planting size, he heads to work on some of the most erosion-prone areas of Koanui.

“We fence the stream edges, then begin to plant,” explains Fred. “The aim is to eventually fence off all the rivers and streams on the property and plant them out in natives.” 

This year, Fred’s native plantings included 500 native trees funded through Trees That Count, by generous individuals as well as companies including NOVUS Glass and Havelock North-based Weleda. 

The Chestermans’ award-winning neighbours at the Maraetōtara Tree Trust also receive Trees That Count funded native trees, and likewise are doing an incredible job of fencing and restoring waterways. 

Together with the work at Koanui, this work has the potential to form an entire ecological corridor along the Maraetōtara stream, providing clean water and havens for native wildlife. 

“This is work that directly impacts the sustainability of our relationship with the land,” says Fred’s daughter-in-law Jennifer, who manages the day-to-day operations at Koanui with husband Chris. 

“Koanui has been in our family for over 100 years across five generations. We’re witnessing higher temperatures, increasing dry periods, unpredictable seasons, and incursion of new pest and disease species. All these factors affect plant and animal health.”

Jennifer says that the outcomes of Fred’s planting are recognisably turning the tide on the changing environment at Koanui.

“Since our first tree was planted in 2016, the project has gained momentum as the benefits of beautification, erosion control, and the protection of waterways have encouraged us to continue upscaling our planting.”

The coming summer months will see Fred heading out to release grass around his completed plantings, often ably assisted by granddaughter Allie. 

He also works hard removing thistles and weeds around the farm by hand, giving the native species the best possible chance of survival in the hot Hawkes Bay climate.

Fred’s dedication to planting and nurturing native trees means that his children and grandchildren alike will see the benefits of a greener farm. 

“Nothing is more beautiful than native bush,” Fred says simply. “It is the legacy I will leave.”