For well over a century a unique conservation project has been developing on the western slopes above Lake Tutira, 25 minutes drive north of Napier.

On 90 hectares of former farmland the Guthrie-Smith Arboretum is becoming a repository of tree species from all over the world – a world that is facing the threat of climate change. Here, the Guthrie-Smith Trust grows examples of tree species which might otherwise face extinction.

Morning fog over Lake Tutira.

The role of establishing the arboretum is that of Guthrie-Smith Arboretum trustee, Chris Ryan, who with the help of long-term forester Quentin Roberts, determines what will be planted and where. The curator of the arboretum, George Christison and his wife Kirsty live in the homestead, supervise planting, maintain and administer it.

Governance is provided by the Board of Trustees. Some help with planting comes from the Eastern Institute of Technology, Friends of the Trust and schools.

With no irrigation (water is a scarce resource here) the planting is done primarily by Christison to a method which ensures the trees’ survival during all conditions. It involves removing the turf, preparing the soil, fertilising and mulching the sapling. On slopes, the plant site is level or tilted back slightly into the hill to allow rainwater to pool and weed control is vital in the early years. Ponds have been created within the arboretum with the purpose of adding biodiversity to the landscape and pest eradication has ensured a noticeable increase in bird and insect life.

Part of the arboretum planting is geographical with the trees planted in the most suitable site according to the climate of the country of origin. So, for example, the North American mountain conifers are grouped on the cooler, moister south-facing slopes, and Mediterranean species on the hot, dry north-facing slopes, and so on. The New Zealand section could become recognised as the major collection of natives in this country.

A state-of-the-art GPS system locates and identifies individual trees so that health and growth is monitored as each matures. In conjunction, a comprehensive photographic record is kept.

When tree planting was first proposed in 2002, the Trust brainstormed a plan for future planting development. To date, over 17,000 trees have been planted with early plantings already achieving good height, their good health evident in the lush growth and confirmed by an extraordinarily good strike-rate.

Fulfilling the mission

This landmark stage has been achieved through the support and funding from many private individuals and organisations, but the Guthrie-Smith Trust is now in need of more regular donations to move to the next stage of its development. This is to open more fully to the public and to develop and expand environmental education.

Historically, the land owned by Herbert Guthrie-Smith from 1880 until his death in 1940, was a working farm of 25,000 hectares. During his tenure at Tutira, he experienced financial hardship and many successes as he struggled with the economic realities of farming during New Zealand’s pioneering era.

In an early example of environmental awareness, Guthrie-Smith observed, photographed and meticulously recorded every feature of his land and how it changed as a result of his farming activities. He became a committed environmentalist and the book he wrote, Tutira: the Story of a New Zealand Sheep Station, is regarded as a classic of international environmental literature.

After his death, his daughter, Barbara Absolom, gifted the land in 1942 to the Trust as an educational and recreational centre for the people of New Zealand. Its vision was to create an arboretum that would be a fitting legacy; the Guthrie-Smith Arboretum’s purpose is educational, scientific, practical and recreational.

Since that time the Trust has provided education at the Centre for school and other groups and has accommodation for 40 people. Currently, a skilled outdoor recreation operator has a lease to provide a variety of courses on kayaking, rope work, orienteering and other outdoor activities. Last year, 1,700 participated.

Looking Ahead

The goal now is to expand further into environmental education and to more fully utilise the facilities by being open year round, which will require staff and permanent signage. This means more funding and volunteers with the necessary skills and enthusiasm to further their educational ambitions.

Chris Ryan, Trust member, plantsman, visionary and guiding hand, believes that the facility provides unlimited opportunities for schools bringing intermediate and secondary school-aged children on field trips into this exciting world of knowledge centreing on the environmental sciences, geography, geology and biology.

“The possibilities are endless,” enthuses Ryan. The arboretum team gathers evidence on the growth and production of nut and fruit trees, high-value timber species and erosion-control plantings. Field days will be held for landowners who seek to increase the value of their land by planting trees. With tree planting so essential in managing erosion for the east coast such field days will be timely and relevant.

Tourism potential

It doesn’t require a leap of imagination to recognise that Tutira has considerable potential as a tourist destination. The lake offers fishing, kayaking and tramping. It is a picnic spot for travellers and camping facilities exist for those who wish to stop for a day or two.

Chris Ryan, trust member and plantsman.

The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council has plans to develop walking and biking tracks around the lake which will link up with the coast at Bay View. Opening the Guthrie-Smith Arboretum to the public every day (currently it holds Open Days), the appeal would be widened further. On his wish list, Ryan would like to see at Guthrie-Smith an upgraded and expanded Education and Information Centre providing a central point for visitors to the area.

Ryan points out that with many shared priorities and goals – the protection of the environment, recreation and education – the HBRC and the Guthrie-Smith Trust seem well matched to form a collaborative partnership designed to establish an eco-tourism centre in the region.

Survival of species

Ryan is concerned that in New Zealand, as elsewhere in the world, people’s understanding about the risks to the environment is limited and fragmented. Fashionable environmental causes attract sponsorship and funding, but this ignores the bigger picture – the survival and interconnectedness of all species. A holistic approach is required.

“We focus on the kiwi and the kakapo as though they lived in isolation, but without the ecosystems that sustain them, they wouldn’t exist,” says Ryan. “What about the trees, plants and insects which are also at risk of extinction?”

The temperate climate of New Zealand provides a range of climatic conditions and located as it is half a world away from major population pressure, it is the perfect place to establish a repository of world plant species. In the face of climate change this laboratory for research and education is an important resource.

Chris Ryan believes that in coming years international visitors – scientists, botanists, dendrologists, arborists and gardeners – will be attracted to Tutira to share ideas and material. The Guthrie-Smith Arboretum will be a living plant bank, much in the way that Kew Gardens in London holds an international seed bank.

For information or to become a Friend of Guthrie-Smith Arboretum contact the secretary:
John Springford
06 873 8037

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