In November 2017, Chris Morrison and Campbell McLean, were hiking the Kepler Track above Lake Te Anau when they gazed out at the beauty of the natural landscape and decided – then and there – to contribute to the safekeeping and well-being of New Zealand’s indigenous flora and fauna for future generations.
Environmental trusts and individuals throughout New Zealand were already working to restore and protect the country’s unique biodiverse ecosystems, so Chris and Campbell decided to focus on an area that brought them together as friends in the first place: the Ruamahanga River catchment area, which borders Rathkeale College in the Waiarapa, where Chris and Campbell attended high school.
It took one year, including a visit back to their old school, before the Ruamahanga Restoration Trust was finally incorporated thanks to support from the law offices of Gibson Sheat in Masterton.
Chris and Campbell have since invited a number of Rathkeale Old Boys to support their goal of embracing educational community-led projects as a way to promote the restoration and protection of unique biodiverse ecosystems within the Wairarapa. As a result, the Trust is now focused on encouraging local schools to support predator control and restoration plantings within their districts. The aim being to advance educational awareness of conservation and environmental issues at the school level by helping to restore and protect indigenous ecosystems, including the protection of native fish species and birdlife along the length and breadth of the Ruamahanga River.
Local law firm Gibson Sheat joined as our first official sponsor offering legal services for the establishment of the trust. In addition to becoming one of our Trustees, local resident and fellow Rathkeale Old Boy Michael Birch generously provides his time and services to help create our website and and liaise with local iwi and community groups.
The Trustees have since identified a number of objectives that local students, teachers and community residents can rally behind with the goal of delivering measurable results, one step at a time.
According to Campbell McLean, many school leavers head out into the world without fully utilizing the resources and camaraderie of their high school network. “The time has come to return and give something back to the educational system and the Wairarapa community at large. My first hiking experience into the Tararuas was during my first year at Rathkeale. I have lots of good memories exploring the district’s great outdoors during those formative school years.”
The Ruamahanga Trust has since created the ‘Schools Behind Our River’ project as a means “to encourage schools, local communities and our future young leaders to protect the region's environment from pollution, predators and invasive species.”
The Trust also plans to support the Rathkeale Eco Trail as a community-based educational project for environmental conservation and research purposes, providing services and materials for pathways, native seedlings, predator traps and educational signage, including the option to install predator-free fencing as a means to encourage the return of native bird-life along the Pukaha to Palliser bird corridor.
The Eco Trail site features a unique wetland feeder stream connected to the river that provides a special habitat for freshwater fish species. The area includes stands of ancient totora trees, matai and several ancient kahikatea trees, which once dominated New Zealand’s swampy lowland forests. One tree in particular is estimated to be at least 500 years old.
A broader longer-term objective is to assist local landowners restore pockets of unused farmland and riparian margins by providing funds and resources for potective fencing and native seedlings.
Chris Morrison, founder of Phoenix Organics, Karma Cola and All Good Organics is the trust’s first benefactor. According to Chris, the trust’s mission starts at the school level, “where students and teachers become storytellers tasked to inform and encourage others in the belief that nothing is impossible when it comes to protecting and restoring the health and lifespan of our ecosystems.”