A visit to a sheep station-turned conservation classroom in Hawke's Bay
90ha of the historic and world-famous Tutira property of Herbert Guthrie-Smith is now run as an ecologically important haven for native birds, rare and endangered trees, plants and other flora. Administered by a Trust and managed by a curator, the property contains an arboretum and education centre. Lake Waikopiro, adjacent to the property and Lake Tutira, also contains an experimental air curtain installation to help oxygenate the water and reduce the risk of algal blooms.
Herbert Guthrie-Smith (1862 - 1940) bought the lease of Tutira Station (at 20,000 acres) in Hawke’s Bay and with very hard work and investment increased its size to 60,000 acres in the late 1890s. He had one daughter, Barbara, born in 1905. After WW1 some of the large station was subdivided for returning servicemen and he gave up some of the leases, reducing Tutira to about 7,000 acres. In the 1920s he wrote Tutira, the story of a New Zealand sheep station, which became famous around the world for its detailed observations of and comments on natural landforms, native flora and fauna, introduced pests and farm livestock. It is a renowned history of Maori and European occupation and its effects on the land and its plants, birds and animals.
The Guthrie-Smith Trust was founded by Barbara in 1942 with 800ha of land to administer for the benefit of the people of New Zealand, for educational and recreational purposes. It was farmed for 45 years and took farm cadets for training.
David Allan is current chairman of the trust. He was a cadet on Tutira in 1965-66, a two-year course of practical farming for sheep and beef, dairying and the associated piggery. In 1997 the trustees sold the majority of the land,retaining 80ha and buildings, then adding a further 10ha in 2007.
The management and development of Guthrie-Smith property and arboretum is funded from the investment returns on proceeds from the sale of the original land plus grants from local trusts, and donations from organisations and individuals.
The trustees are a group of local, well respected and successful people who each possess a passion for ecology and education.
The curator, George Christison, and his wife Kirsty and their children have lived in the restored Tutira homestead since 2002. George is a former policeman, training instructor and dairy farm worker. George’s roles include supervision of the educational activities, built around school camps for primary and intermediate ages, the environmental education courses supported by Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and Panpac, and the water quality programme.
The former cadet hostel has been turned into an education centre. It houses groups of up to 50 schoolchildren, who have lesson planners and folders about planting and growing trees, using hand-held GPs to locate different species, and also outdoor adventures such as high ropes, flying foxes, canoeing, and raft building.
On Sundays from October to May the arboretum is open to members of the public from 9am to 5pm and entry is free. Future development plans include more facilities for the public. There is also a cottage on the property avainable for hire through “Book a Bach”.
An arboretum is “a botanical garden devoted to trees”. Chris Ryan, is a former plant scientist, orchardist, and nurseryman. He is the Guthrie-Smith trustee most concerned with the design, planting, and maintenance of the arboretum, begun in 2002. Devised as a tool for education and landowner extension, part of arboretum contains nine groupings of trees from countries and geographical regions, connected by walkways (New Zealand, Australia, China, Japan, Himalayas, Europe, Mexico, North America, Mediterranean and others).
The principles for tree selection include biodiversity, usefulness, beauty and interest. Cuttings and seeds from different sources, here and overseas, are propagated and planted. It is a repository of plant material that may be becoming scarce and a biodiversity resource for some trees that may become valuable in the future.
The arboretum covers a wide variety of land forms, soil types and water access. The backdrop to the homestead and arboretum contains the Hanger, an area of regenerating native bush shut up by Herbert Guthrie-Smith in 1896 and now covenanted in perpetuity under the QE ll Trust. Conifers have been planted at higher levels as backdrops to deciduous species. Other sections include trees for forestry, erosion control, new cultivars, new species to New Zealand such as Mexican oaks, and Trees for Bees food sources.
A computer-based system is used to record full details and GPS location of each tree or group of similar trees. Growth and other data relating to most trees is recorded regularly.
Numbers of a species of tree range from just a few, to general plantings of seven to 15, enabling male and female of the species, or up to groups of beween15 to 50 plants of very useful species.
The Tutira Mai Nga Iwi programme to improve the water quality in Lakes Tutira and Waikopiro began with removing pest trees around the lakes, removing invasive weeds and planting out native trees. To combat sedimentation and subsequent algal blooms, the HBRC has installed an air curtain in Waikapiro for the summer (2017-18). The air curtain increases oxygen levels at all depths throughout the lake by creating a circulation current, much like bubblers in a fish aquarium. The system is being piloted in the smaller Waikōpiro, and if successful a larger air curtain will be installed in Tūtira.