Stream banks, roadside verges and rail corridors around Rotorua are brimming with gorse and blackberry – and Tipu Waiariki Charitable Trust sees a major environmental opportunity to transform our region’s landscape.
By removing weeds and planting native species instead, they hope to see dramatic improvement in water quality and biodiversity within the Rotorua and Tarawera catchments.
Three years ago local businessman and passionate environmentalist Gregg Brown founded the trust (known as Tipu Wai for short), in the hopes of planting 100,000+ trees every year for decades to come.
“The inspiration came from a harbour care group in Raglan,” Gregg explains. “They’ve been planting approximately 100,000 trees per year for over 25 years. So I think they’ve got at least 2.7 million trees in the ground over that time. And the really cool bit is that the water quality in the harbour has gone from really not great to pretty damn fantastic. So it’s pretty inspiring stuff.”
Gregg has planted natives on his own property at Lake Okareka wherever and whenever possible. He’s now gathered a strong team of like-minded locals to run Tipu Wai and around 20,000 natives have so far been planted across a dozen or more sites, including Mokoia Island and Lake Rotoiti.
“It’s not a bad start and some of that was done in conjunction with Scion who we partnered with in our first year. They received funding from the One Billion Trees Programme so we jumped in the deep end and helped plant trees in seven different sites. We went from not having anyone or anything to really ramping up in a hurry. It was a good learning exercise.”
The planting project with Scion doubled as a trial to see if paper pots were a better option than plastic bags to grow seedlings in. “The science that came out of it was very handy. There’s definitely some learning that comes from putting smaller plants in the ground and how much maintenance they require after you plant them versus something that’s fairly healthy already that goes in the ground and how it can beat the weeds. It was good confirmation for us and really affirmed where our sweet spot is in terms of our style of work.”
Tipu Wai intends to focus on planting natives that are at least six months old, and will opt for paper pots if possible. Species will include manuka, kanuka, lemonwood, pittosporums and cabbage trees amongst others.
Recent grants from BayTrust ($35,000) and Rotorua Trust have enabled Tipu Wai to buy a new ute, trailer and mulching machine to help clear land so it’s ready for planting.
“The mulcher is remote controlled and weighs a little over a tonne. It’s at least 20 to 25 times more productive than a person on a hand-operated brush cutter. It can mow blackberry and gorse at about the same speed you can mow your lawn. But it’s obviously a lot wider so we can cover quite a bit of ground in a relatively short period of time.”
Gregg says he’s extremely grateful for the financial support received. “It’s a recognition of our capability as a bunch of volunteers so that’s really nice to have that trust imparted on us. Trying to do the environmental work that BayTrust and Rotorua Trust want to see happen, and being able to facilitate it, is pretty cool.”
Tipu Wai is currently in negotiations to secure nursery space in Rotorua so the next crop of seedlings can be grown. They hope to plant at least 20,000 next year and ramp up quickly from there.
“We want to get to 100,000 a year sooner rather than later but the retail price is $4.50 to $5 for a plant the size that we like. So you’re talking $400,000 to $500,000 a year and there’s no funding of that scale. So we have to work out a way of generating our own plants at scale as cheaply as possible.”
In future, Tipu Wai hopes to partner with at-risk youth programmes or prisoner rehabilitation programmes to help grow the plants. Corporates, school groups and community organisations like Rotary are all keen to help with planting out when the time comes.
“We’re not choosy about where we plant. It could be private land if it’s locked up and safe. But every stream, road and rail corridor is full of weeds so we’re not short of opportunities to plant.
We are looking for collaboration and I think the more we establish ourselves as capable, the more partnerships that will come about and more projects will come our way.”