Canterbury farmers interested in restoring native forest on their farms are being encouraged to seek free advice.

Ecology consultant Dr Adam Forbes has been employed since August as the University of Canterbury School of Forestry's (UC) restoration ambassador, thanks to Te Uru Rakau (Forestry New Zealand) partnership funding as part of the government's One Billion Trees programme.

While his ambassador's work has been largely in the North Island, Dr Forbes said he had found there was a real need for expert advice on native restoration to be made available to farmers and he was keen to visit more farms in the South Island.

"Just about anyone can plant a pine forest, but if you have 30 hectares and you want to establish a native forest, it's not so straightforward.

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"There's a real need for it and that's a gap I'm filling and I am able to give that advice for free."

The restoration ambassador role came about through the efforts UC forestry Prof David Norton, who supervised Dr Forbes' PhD.

"A large part of the One Billion Trees initiative is to get two-thirds of the one billion trees in natives.

"David Norton saw that there was a need to link scientists with farmers to road-test the research that is being done and to link farmers with specialist advice.

Dr Adam Forbes has been working as the University of Canterbury School of Forestry's restoration ambassador. Photo / Supplied by Adam Forbes
Dr Adam Forbes has been working as the University of Canterbury School of Forestry's restoration ambassador. Photo / Supplied by Adam Forbes

"And Te Uru Rakau partnership fund needed somebody to help people with their applications."

While the initiative was established as a 12-month pilot, Dr Forbes hoped it could be extended with more ambassadors out in the field.

"I'm the only one at the moment. I've been working in the Far North, Wairarapa, Waikato, King Country, Hawke's Bay and in the Gisborne, East Cape area."

He has also been working with 30 North Canterbury farms as part of the Post Quake Farming Project.

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"From my point view it's great. As an ecologist there is such diversity. You've got the sub-tropical forests in Northland, it's different in Hawke's Bay and it's different again in North Canterbury, where you are going up to 1200m in some of the hill country.

"They [Te Uru Rakau] were keen on me working in areas which don't have a lot of support, with people who are quite geographically remote and to work with iwi.

Dr Adam Forbes says there are ecological and economic benefits to native restoration on farm. Photo / Supplied by Adam Forbes
Dr Adam Forbes says there are ecological and economic benefits to native restoration on farm. Photo / Supplied by Adam Forbes

"The Post Quake Farming Project has shown there's a need with people wanting help and I would love to work with other farmers in the South Island."

Dr Forbes began by having a cuppa with farmers to find what they hoped to do and then he had a look at the farm, using a drone to get photos.

He then prepared a report of the options, such as fencing, pest and weed management, what native vegetation there already was, whether it could grow naturally or needed intervention, and funding options.

His PhD research, which studied managing pine stands as a nursery for native forestry, came in handy with his ambassador work, he said.

Dr Adam Forbes is able to advise farmers throughout New Zealand on the benefits of native restoration, as part of the One Billion Trees programme. Photo / Supplied by Adam Forbes
Dr Adam Forbes is able to advise farmers throughout New Zealand on the benefits of native restoration, as part of the One Billion Trees programme. Photo / Supplied by Adam Forbes

"I found in many instances pines can be used as a nursery for native forestry, but in some parts of the country, such as the Canterbury plains, there needs to be quite a bit of intervention.

"It works well in warm, moist climates like Rotorua and Marlborough, and in North Canterbury, on southwest-facing gullies on hill country."

Rather than spending money on herbicides and helicopters to clear gullies and cliff faces, he recommended farmers fence them off, register in the Emissions Trading Scheme and "make it part of the farm operation".

"Sometimes it makes more sense to work with it rather than fighting against it all the time."

In other parts of the South Island, Dr Forbes said native restoration could be achieved through active management such as felling pines to create "canopy gaps to optimise the light" and create the micro-climates, as in a native forest.