Hinewai Reserve

May 2017

Hinewai Reserve comprises 1250ha of regenerating native bush on Banks Peninsula in Canterbury. It is a natural regeneration restoration project.

Hinewai Reserve comprises 1250ha of regenerating native bush on Banks Peninsula in Canterbury. It is a natural regeneration restoration project. The goal is to get back to what Banks Peninsula was like before deforestation by Maori and Pakeha settlers. It is run by a private trust but is freely open to the public, much like a mini national park.

Hugh Wilson is the reserve manager. Hugh is a botanist, who worked in Mt Cook National Park, Tongariro National Park and Stewart Island/Rakiura before arriving back in Canterbury. It was while conducting a botanical survey of Banks Peninsula that Hugh became aware of what native species were still around, just waiting to re-assert themselves.

The Reserve was established in 1987 when Christchurch businessman Maurice White approached Hugh and asked him to keep an eye out for a suitable piece of land to create a native bird sanctuary. The Maurice White Native Forest Trust eventually bought a 109ha block of farm land, with the express intention of returning it to native bush and providing a sanctuary for native birds. Hugh says it was a perfect piece of land to begin with as it was uneconomic as a farm and had a stand of old growth forest, including red beech trees, which is very rare on Banks Peninsula.

The management philosophy has always been one of “minimal interference”. Hugh describes it as nature getting on with putting the bush back. And while gorse is not a great weed for farmers, Hugh says if it is left alone, and there are enough native seed and sufficient rainfall, the native plants come up underneath and as long as they are not being grazed off, they will eventually grow through the gorse and their shade will in turn kill off the gorse. Gorse is also a good nitrogen fixer in the soil, which helps the young natives thrive.

Initially local landowners were sceptical and called Hugh the ‘Gorse Farmer’. However, as the gorse has been overgrown by the native plants, Hugh’s dream has been turned into reality and the reserve now attracts tourists and scientists from around the world. Hugh says pretty confidently, “there isn’t a single farmer around the region who isn’t completely behind what we’re doing now.”

Hinewai now covers over 1250ha, plus 192ha of the adjacent Purple Peak Curry Reserve which is owned by the NZ Native Forest Restoration Trust and managed by Hinewai.

The reserve is home to some beautiful mature trees as well as a growing area of re-generating bush.

Birds have increased as habitat has improved and limited predator control is underway. Possums are controlled to low numbers because the benefit is clear cut. Habitat improvement is the main factor, and bird numbers have certainly increased. By law, the boundaries have to be kept free of gorse, broom and blackberry, which Hugh says is a lot of work.

Bellbirds, brown creepers, tomtits, grey warblers, kereru, fantails and rifleman are some of the birds species regularly sighted. Tui were also released into the reserve in 2009 and appear to be settling in nicely, in and beyond the reserve.

A twice-a-year newsletter called ‘Pipipi’ is published by the Trust and is sent to a wide range of supporters.

About 20km of walking tracks traverse the reserve and link to the township of Akaroa. Hugh says the tracks are mostly for access for reserve workers but the public use them as well. The well known Banks Peninsula Track also has its final day travelling from the coast up through the Reserve and down to Akaroa.

For the past 10 years Hinewai has sold carbon credits from the property through Environmental Solutions, which is a Carbon Zero scheme. This brings in a significant income to the property. Recently the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, said that New Zealand should let thousands of hectares of unproductive, marginal land revert to native forest. Hinewai is a useful example of this happening, as it has been reverting for 30 years. Hugh says, “the natural regeneration story is very significant nationally in terms of our carbon emission.”

But for Hugh, carbon sequestration is only part of the story of Hinewai. It is about creating habitat, not just for birds, but also for insects, spiders and fish. Habitat is everything, Hugh says. “We are leaving it up to nature, with minimal help from us. We are removing blunders we have made, and we are being careful not to make more blunders.”

Hinewai is protected in perpetuity by covenant, mainly with Department of Conservation Protected Private Land Covenant, and one area is protected with a QEII National Trust covenant. And it is doubly protected by its carbon scheme. Hugh says currently they are on the lookout for a “nice, friendly accountant, who will be on the board and keep things going. But who knows? You can just set it up as well as you can, and hope that it does”.