Now we are ten.

Date: 26th January 2024

What better time to reflect on beginnings than a nice round birthday? In March we reach a full decade of restoring native biodiversity to the Whakatipu Basin. From its steep mountains to its braided rivers, this unique place once contained a mosaic of plant communities. Sadly, we have lost 90% of these indigenous plants, an alarming statistic that we hope to reverse as the Trust’s activities grow in scale.

What drives us to restore native biodiversity, is in fact, people. We want to provide opportunities for our community to understand our native ecosystems and species, and to engage with the layered stories these places share with us. A quote from Dr Colin Meurk, landscape ecologist has long influenced our work, and summarises why we seek to involve people in direct and meaningful action to restore wild nature:

“Without endemic touchstones visible to the resident [Whakatipu Basin] population on a daily basis, their appreciation of the history of their own land and identification with it will gradually atrophy.”

With each candle on the cake, we’ve made strides toward our vision of a Whakatipu Basin that hums with native plants, insects and birdlife. 

We’re not just celebrating a birthday in March. Ten years has also delivered:

      • 80,828 native trees and shrubs grown and planted 

      • Over 70 species of indigenous plants grown, including threatened species

      • Plants in the ground at 70 planting sites around the Basin

      • 18,000 plants supplied to 20 community groups

      • 6000 plants supplied to school planting projects

      • More than 30,000 hours of volunteer work recorded since 2014

    These numbers wouldn’t be possible without our dedicated crew of community volunteers and funding partners. There’s a lot more to our work that numbers can’t express too. Over ten years of mahi we have: 

        • Empowered the community to take tangible action in restoring biodiversity and mitigating climate change at a local level.

        • Established keystone planting sites are now established. With the shrubs thickening and growing lusher each year, the difference made to the landscape is now visible.

        • Grown a dedicated crew of volunteers who keep the nursery operations ticking each Wednesday. Many friendships have bloomed alongside the native shrubs!

        • Developed Educate for Nature programmes, to grow the next generation of essential kaitiaki

        • Seen volunteering rise. We started with a few friends. There are now hundreds of people attending our seasonal planting days.

        • Encouraged local businesses to take up the opportunity to give back to nature.

        • Inspired other revegetation projects within communities through our work – even the establishment of small community nurseries!

      It’s all pretty amazing for something that started with a conversation about beech trees and conifers. And now, as our tenth anniversary approaches, we’re looking back over the journey so far.

      2013 – A place of our own

      Like most great ideas, plans for the Jean Malpas Nursery started with a yarn between two old friends. 

      Neill Simpson, founding trustee and current Chair and Peter Willsman, Founding Chair of the Whakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group, picked out Jardine Park as the perfect location for a community nursery dedicated to raising native beech trees. These beeches, it had been decided, could be planted in place of dead conifers around town. The QLDC Reserves Director and Mayor walked the area with Neill and Peter, and the site was agreed upon. Thanks to encouragement from the Council, and generous financial and in-kind support from many groups and individuals, the nursery was constructed and the Trust was formed with Neill Simpson, Barb Simpson, John Wilson and Hans Arnestedt as trustees. Barb and Neill could finally move all the native seedlings out of their vege garden!

      2014 – A fresh vision for vegetation

      With the Trust formally established, a purpose-built nursery officially opened by the Minister for the Environment and Conservation, and funding sources in place to support our initial mahi, the real growth could begin. It was time to engage the community.

      The first volunteer potting session was held on 19 March 2014.  Locals and visitors began joining our Wednesday sessions to pot on, prick out, weed, clean and prepare native plants for their lives out in the wild. Grasses, shrubs and other trees were now in the mix too. 800 plants, brought in from other nurseries, were put in the ground at the south end of Waiwhakaata-Lake Hayes, the Trust’s first site.

      2015 – All hands in the ground

      2015 saw our regular community planting sessions kick into gear, events that are now permanent fixtures on Queenstown’s spring and autumn calendars.

      Community volunteers planted at Peace Park, Lake Hayes South, Project Gold (around Waiwhakaata-Lake Hayes) and Feehly Hill. Visitors to those sites today can see the fruits (and flowers!) of their labour.

      2017 – New growth at the Jean Malpas Nursery

      An injection of funding from the DOC Community Fund allowed us to extend the nursery and build a propagation shed. Lead propagator Helen McPhail now had a room of her own in which to store and propagate her eco-sourced seeds, and the nursery’s capacity was doubled. Thanks to the extension we can now grow over 10,000 plants each year for our sites, community groups and schools.
      In 2017 work also continued on the reference gardens around the nursery, a valuable educational tool. Another helpful asset arrived with the publication of Neill Simpson and Ben Teele’s Growing Native Plants in the Wakatipu, a comprehensive guide which remains an essential reference text for local landscapers and home gardeners as they select native plant species.

      2020 – Educate for Nature launches

      Education had always been a pillar of the Trust’s purpose, and we formalised it in 2020 by developing structured learning programs to engage children with nature. With ongoing funding from ORC and our local Educate for Nature business partners, hundreds of young people in the Basin are now taking part in hands-on learning about the challenges faced by our local ecosystems. 

      We also began hosting Lunch and Learn sessions to deliver bite-sized environmental learning. With the events of 2020, our local environments and communities became far more important to everyone. It was no surprise to see a big jump in volunteers attending our community planting days in 2020 and 2021.

      2022 – WRT goes landscape-scale

      Prior to 2022 we focused on revegetating smaller pockets of public land that will eventually form ecological corridors through the Basin. In 2022, our efforts were amplified through collaboration. With Trees That Count and Te Tapu o Tāne we delivered Queenstown’s first landscape scale community planting event on the south face of Coronet Peak, an area that sits under the Mahu Whenua covenant as part of Coronet Peak Station. Over 10,000 native trees and shrubs were planted by community members over two epic days!

      In 2023, we partnered with Mana Tāhuna Charitable Trust to restore a degraded wetland at the north end of Waiwhakaata-Lake Hayes, coordinating a full week of planting days that involved schools, community, local conservation groups as well as tourism industry businesses.

      2024 – Slope Hill Reserve takes centre stage

      What if we could travel back to 2014 at Lake Hayes South, interrupt the Trustees as they planted 800 native shrubs and tell them that soon enough they’d be working on a plan to plant 30,000 trees just over the hill? It’s hard to believe!
      But that’s exactly what we’ll be working on as we celebrate ten years. We were the fortunate recipients of a game-changing grant from the Hilton Global Foundation, specifically for the revegetation of Slope Hill Reserve. Combined with another big donation of trees for He Rā Rākau Tītapu – King Charles III Coronation Plantings, 2024 will certainly be one for the history books!

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