Official website of the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association

Farm forestry in Southland - An introduction

John Purey-Cust, New Zealand Tree Grower February 2009.

As Gary Morgan’s article on page four makes clear, there are few places in Southland where the structure of the country makes forestry an absolute necessity, few places where the hills fall down on to the plains or gully out to sea under a frail geology and a misdirected pastoralism. The place of trees here is for shelter, for biodiversity, and as a productive and alternate land use for those who look to the longer term and understand that graphs do not always relentlessly speed upwards to the ceiling.

New Zealand’s hidden secret

Farm forestry came to Southland soon after World War II. This was in the form of charismatic missionaries from the north, namely Neil Barr seeking support for a New Zealand wide farm forestry association and Richard St Barbe Baker of the UK based Men of the Trees. In Southland we have both a Southland branch of the Men of the Trees affiliated to the NZFFA as well as to its parent body, and a Southland branch of the NZFFA. We work together, as you will see if you attend the 2010 conference.

My introduction to Southland was concise, in the form of a note scribbled on the back of an envelope, ‘Report to Conical Hill Sawmill,Tapanui’ and signed by Hugo Hinds, then Conservator of Forests, Canterbury in the NZ Forest Service. I was at Balmoral forest, a dry shingle bank on the Hurunui River. I showed the note to Ted Gimblett, in charge of the forest. ‘Southland’ he said,‘New Zealand’s hidden secret. Most people don’t even know it’s there.’

Essentially Southland

That was 1963, and of courseTapanui is in West Otago, not Southland. But the Blue Mountains face south, the local town is Gore in Southland and Tapanui and the rest of Otago were both in the Forest Service’s Southland conservancy, ruled from Invercargill. So to me it was and still is essentially Southland.

In the early days, as in most other places in New Zealand, forestry meant native bush logging, but by 1963 that was slowing down and the government’s Conical Hill mill cut pine. Less obvious to me was an already thriving farm forestry movement in west Otago whose members were putting trees back on farms. Those trees and shelter belts are still the fabric of the landscape there.

They are still there in much of northern Southland, although recently under attack by a new model dairy industry only slowly learning the virtues of trees on farms. That will come eventually as the climate dictates and as a more settled industry learns that there is more to farming than just mechanistic maximisation of production. But some have known that all along, as one of the articles in this section shows.

Diversity

Another virtue of Southland is the diversity of its industry based on wood. There is no major player in the field, instead a range of growers and users, all innovative and covering the field from radiata, to Douglas fir and eucalypts, and on to silver beech. Parnell Trost covers all this well in his article.

But things are changing from those early enthusiastic post-war days. Many of the lessons that early farm foresters preached have been accepted. The public interest has spread out much wider, with many more groups of people interested in the huge range of virtues offered by trees, most notably the natives. We compete for an audience, and that is good.

John Purey-Cust is President of the Southland Branch of the NZFFA.

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