Wise Land Use on Erosion Prone Hill Country

June 2014

Nick and Sheryl Pollock won the 2012 Michael Hay Memorial Award for Farm Forestry

Nick and Sheryl Pollock have turned an erosion-prone Gisborne hill country property into a textbook case of wise land use, and as a result won the 2012 Michael Hay Memorial Award for a younger member of the NZ Farm Forestry Association who is planting or establishing trees.

Nick Pollock bought 130ha of land in 2001 before he was married. It was just up the road from his parents’ property Highgate at Muriwai. He and Sheryl have two sons, Angus who is five, and Ben who turns four in May. Nick has a background in horticulture, with a Bachelor of Horticultural Science at Lincoln University and time worked as a field officer for Talleys in Blenheim. Nick returned to Gisborne in August 2003 and for the last five years he has worked for the Ministry of Primary Industries, focusing on the forestry sector, specifically around the ETS and the East Coast Forestry Project.

One year after Nick bought the land, it was hit by the worst flood the catchment had seen in 70 years (far worse than Cyclone Bola). His parents had a pump shed down the road, and during Cyclone Bola the flood came up to the floor of the shed. In the 2002 flood, water levels rose over the roof of the shed. It destroyed many fences, changed watercourses and generally caused havoc, undoing much of the development completed up until then. Nick says, “After that 2002 flood, we only had one paddock which was stock-proof.”

After two years of trying to supervise the new land purchase from the South Island, Nick moved back to Gisborne in 2003. By then cattle yards were built, a new reticulated water supply was in, and subdivision was a priority. He worked part time for Kaiaponi Packhouse as a supply manager procuring citrus and apples.

At first he ran 200 bulls on the farm. “But they wrecked everything while I was at work, and because I wasn’t there to fix what they broke, the fences were progressively destroyed.” So most of the bulls went, and were replaced by cows. “I had been keen to plant trees but couldn’t fund it. Three years ago I applied for the AGS, and by the time it was approved it was July, and we had 37ha to plant in that winter.”

The Afforestation Grants Scheme (AGS) provided a grant of $2100/ha to plant, although Nick spent more money than that. With the AGS the government takes the credits for the first 10 years and Nick has specific requirements he has to meet over that time including keeping a lid on feral goats and deer.

Areas targeted for forestry are the more difficult parts of the farm, being waterways, steep slopes (often over 45 degrees) and highly erodible slopes or areas with poor stock security. These have all been severely affected by several major floods in 2005 and again in 2011, and have been the recipient of regular repair efforts with little long-term gain.

The forest species have been chosen for several reasons:

  • High carbon sequestration for the government’s Afforestation Grant Scheme
  • Timber production potential
  • Developing an asset for future generations
  • Providing an interesting and aesthetically pleasing property.

Since 2010 there have been 70,000 trees planted on the farm including:

  • Eucalyptus (mainly ground durable species)
  • Redwoods
  • Pinus radiata
  • Cupressus lusitanica
  • Douglas Fir
  • Oaks
  • Smaller areas of Larch, Cherry, Plane, Ash, Alder, Birch, Ovens Cypress, Poplar and Willow.

In 2011, a couple of earth flows meant the planned planting area of 7ha was extended to 13ha, giving a total of 50ha planted. This 13ha includes:

  • More ground durable Eucalyptus
  • Silky oak,
  • Ovens cypress
  • Plane
  • Acacia dealbata
  • Larch
  • Douglas Fir
  • Western red cedar
  • Cedar
  • An area of ornamentals that included Maples, Horse chestnuts, Lime trees, Oaks, Liquidambar etc. Many of the various oaks have been grown from seed they collected from Eastwoodhill.

The forestry plantings have also helped make the farm simpler to run. “We divided the farm into the real steep stuff where we put trees, the riparian areas affected by floods, where we also planted. The best land went into horticulture and the middle bits into farming. We had suffered large stock losses on the boundaries so we planted trees there too.”

Replacing the light polywire electric cells he previously ran the bulls with are permanent eight wire (two electric) fences to fence off the forestry and offer better security to the stock.

Now the farm runs 80 head of cattle including 50 Hereford cows, 20 bulls and 50 alpacas (which Nick says, are not really an asset, “…they were my Dad’s. They produce a great product, but as far as making money out of them…”).

He and Sheryl planted 1ha of Satsuma mandarins in 2006, and three years ago planted 2ha of Meyer lemons, another 2ha of mandarins and 2ha of feijoas.

The next focus with plantings has been on providing food sources for bees, with plantings last winter of tree lucerne, five-finger and lacebark. Landcare Research scientist Linda Newstrom-Lloyd has assessed their plantings for benefits to bees. They hope to plant targeted species to optimise bee feed supply throughout the year. Beekeeper Barry Foster manages hives on their farm.

This winter they aren’t planning to plant any trees. “We have to look after what we have got, and focus on earning some income from the farm.”

Nick says, “I have always been keen on trees and Eastwoodhill, where my father is a trustee. David Bellamy stayed with Mum and Dad when I was little when he came to visit Eastwoodhill.”

Nick’s father was a horticulture advisor with MAF many years ago and had an avocado and citrus nursery, as well as later farming bulls. His parents’ home farm, Highgate, which had a large garden, was also influential. Nick considered doing landscape architecture at university and has always been keen on trees in the landscape. And he’s gained a lot of ideas and knowledge through the Farm Forestry Association.

Nick and Sheryl’s objective is to make the property into a self-sustaining economic unit that provides an enjoyable and interesting place to work, live and play for generations to come.

“I have tried to have clusters of trees. I would like to have specialty timber for my kids and grandkids. I like the plantings to be aesthetically pleasing.

The hope is that one day our children and future generations will have something special, that can provide a source of sustainable income from specialist timbers from some areas, while other areas of trees are more likely to be left for enjoyment and help hold the land against erosion.”

“This is a tricky little farm predominantly because of the river. Although it’s not a big farm, it was difficult to run and manage. Erosion and floods were just an on-going headache. What we have done is divide up the land classes according to their best land use, based on what I have learnt over time and through work. Now it’s much simpler to run and hopefully a lot more profitable. It was never going to be much of a farm at 130ha running dry stock, but now it has 8ha of orchard plus stock, and in the future some timber income.”

“We are trying to work with it, rather than fighting nature all the time.”