Trees For Survival

May 2021

Dairy farmers opening their farm to school children.

Right about now (May, June and into July), the Covid-19 pandemic willing, a swarm of young environmentalists will be showing up at Brian and Pirkko Gallagher’s farm, located just south of the Manukau Harbour about an hour from downtown Auckland. They will be armed with spades, thriving native seedlings they have grown and nurtured over the past year, and youthful gusto and know-how. The young environmentalists are part of Trees for Survival, established some 30 years ago by forward-thinking Rotarians in Pakuranga, and now a part of the curriculum in 144 schools. 


The pupils digging in at the Gallagher’s farm will be from schools in the Auckland area. They have germinated and raised what they are about to plant, learning, as they get their hands into the soil, about plant growth, watering and weeding, pricking out and potting on – and about the role of trees in controlling erosion, improving waterways, biodiversity and reducing carbon emissions.


Trees for Survival planting days are a highlight of the couple’s farming calendar, even more so this year as they have not been able to host their usual flow of visits by school pupils due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Most years we host anything from 2,000 - 3,000 school students and even though quite a few are from rural schools a few kilometres away from us, many will not have actually been on a farm before,” says Brian.


He and Pirkko have missed seeing the children and teenagers looking, learning and planting on their land over the past 12 months. “On planting days we put on lunch for them and their teachers, and we ensure there’s plenty of farming activity going on for them to see.”


The Gallaghers, like many farmers around the country, are firm believers in opening their gates to visitors, in particular young visitors. “Some of the older ones are looking for career options – and there are so many opportunities in the dairy sector these days, both on farm and in associated industries,” says Brian. “There’s the important conversation about the health of our waterways and what farmers are doing to help improve it, and many visitors are keen to know about where their food comes from, and how farmers care for their animals, as well as the land. Land is important. Animals are important. Without those we haven’t got a business. We care for them and they care for us.”


Brian and Pirkko are third generation farmers on their land where they milk 400 cows on 125 hectares, producing up to 11,000 litres of milk daily. Along with protecting their environment, family heritage is also important to them. Brian’s grandmother ran the farm 50 years ago – ‘she was the boss, completely, of Kay Gallagher & Sons; the sons being my father and my uncle’.


Even those early years saw environmental protection on the farm. Brian’s dad installed field-tile drainage to ensure farm effluent was channelled away from waterways, including the Whangamaire Stream bordering the farm, which drains into Manukau Harbour. Native bush blocks were also seven-wire and batten fenced. 


That was before Brian and Pirkko took over the farm 28 years ago, soon after which they fenced off all the farm’s waterways. “We didn’t want any stock getting into the waterways and polluting the water with their effluent, or damaging the stream banks which causes sediment that clogs up the water flow.”


The Gallagher farm Trees for Survival partnership began eight years ago, and comes under the jurisdiction of the organisation’s programme manager, Sally Clegg, who is also field officer for the Franklin area. “I have a foot in two camps,” she says. “As well as growing the number of schools and communities involved in Trees for Survival and helping them to source local sponsorship – generally from generous businesses in their area – I get to see the enthusiasm that individual students have in looking after ‘their’ plants, right from the start through to getting them into the ground.”


Sally adds that, along with local businesses, many Rotary clubs still also support schools in their district. “Council support is also important, and Auckland Council has led the way by backing this programme for many years.”


Nationally, Trees for Survival receives funding from Te Uru Rākau, the forestry arm of the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), and is also sponsored by New Zealand Steel, Ventia and the Accor Hotel group – every time a guest chooses to reuse their towel during their stay, Accor makes a donation as part of its global Plant for the Planet programme, which is committed to planting one tree per minute worldwide.


On planting days staff from sponsor organisations are invited by the schools to get digging alongside the school students.  


For further information and to join the Trees for Survival initiative, go to


Showdown Productions Ltd.   Rural Delivery Series 16 2021