Alan Wilde has a bold vision to see the entire length of the Ruamahanga River planted in native trees. His passion is evident as he points out the areas on his 14 hectare farm that he single-handedly planted in native trees.
The farm, which is upstream from Morrison’s Bush, is dominated by a steep river escarpment and includes lower paddocks that sit on the river’s flood plain.
Alan not only built a house on the property he also erected the fences and installed a water supply.
As he walks down the farm track that cuts into the side of the river terrace, Alan describes the eclectic mix of exotic and native trees. The old pines have been removed along with other exotics to make way for his native seedlings. Predator traps and bird feeders lie here and there, and several large native trees have been ringed with metal guards to deter rats and possums. “Rats and possums”, he says, “are a common problem.”
“After the regional council literally up sticks and walked away from any predator control on this property, I’ve tried my best to trap on a regular basis, but there are only so many hours in the day, and sometimes the traps are not set for months. Though I’ve trapped at least 100 feral cats since we have lived here.”
“I have always loved trees, especially native trees,” he says. “My aim was to increase the food and habitat for native birds, hence my emphasis on planting trees and bushes that carry berries and fruit of any kind.”
We climb over an electric fence into a protected remnant block that includes large stands of pukatea, one of which he says is well over 400 years old.
Alan, who is now in his mid-eighties, shows no signs of slowing down.
“I am retired, and consider myself an active person, so I take every opportunity to plant trees and help others plant trees on their planting programmes.”
Alan stops mid-track and points out the vast carpet-like layers of tradescantia fluminensis.
“I was thrilled to see the small existing stand of mainly pukatea bush when I first viewed the property and will do all within my power to retain and protect it. Tradescantia is the prominent weed infestation here, and I would really appreciate help to overcome it.”
Alan bends down and shows us where he has raked the tradescantia aside and how Kowhai and other native seedlings have pushed through on their own accord. While common advice suggests outgrowing the trad by planting more trees, Alan firmly believes in raking it away and keeping it weeded to help the young seedlings gain a foothold.
“I started half-heartedly planting about 16 years ago but started planting seriously about five years ago, after I took the bottom paddock out of the lease.”
Being on a flood plain means the surrounding area and paddocks often get inundated with water whenever the river is in flood. Flood waters also back up the small stream at the base of the river terrace and empty out onto the low-lying areas of the paddock.
“I found it very difficult to get trees established on my north boundary due to the frequent flooding, and the debris that came with it, landing on the fence and trees. My other attempts at establishing kahikatea on the river boundary met a similar fate, except that this was in competition with established willows, whose roots I assume prevented the kahikatea from getting established. They’re now well established but have been very slow to grow compared with trees planted at the same time just below the escarpment.”
Small floods happen about four or more times a year. A larger flood of perhaps one meter deep can occur once or twice a year, but that doesn’t deter Alan’s vision to plant more trees both upstream and down.
“I have good relations with my neighbouring farmers who back onto the Ruamahanga river and would like to see an approach made to get them interested in planting the terrace escarpment all the way from Papawai to Martinborough.”
Walking across the property, it soon becomes very evident just how much time, work, and money has gone into Alan’s passion for planting. When questioned, Alan said he has “no idea how many” trees that he has planted but suggested “it could be many thousands.”
However, he makes one suggestion that also resonates.
“We need to bring younger people into the planting programme. To do that I think we need an incentive such as paying student loan fees as a prize or cadet programme — as a stepping stone into a career role.”
Alan Wilde is as passionate as a person can be about planting native trees and the Ruamahanga Restoration Trust is committed to supporting him in his vision to plant the entire length of the river — however long that takes.
Eventually, Alan and his wife plan to move to a smaller home in Carterton with a proviso that he can return and continue his Wilde vision for the Ruamahanga.