New step forward for ‘Pine to natives’ forest conversion project

About 110 hectares of rugged terrain have been cleared of wilding pines as part of the country’s largest ‘pine to natives’ forest conversion project adjacent to the Maungataniwha Native Forest in inland Hawke’s Bay. The work was paid for by a $15,000 grant from the Pan Pac Environmental Trust and saw the clearance of between 1,500 and 2,000 wilding pines, the naturally regenerating offspring of plantation trees.

The forest conversion initiative by Hawke’s Bay-based Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust (FLRT) is converting the former Maungataniwha Pine Forest into 4,000 hectares of regenerating native forest. The latest assault on wilding pines means that more than a third of the area, about 1,500 hectares, can now be described as clear of the exotic tree and regenerating with native species.

The land was cleared over a 15-day period by Hastings-based firm Coast and Country Pest Control Ltd, operated by former arborists Todd Lowrie and Logan Lecomte.

“It was challenging terrain, steep and covered in scrubby manuka, totara, kanuka and broadleaf species in the top areas,” Mr Lowrie said.

The two men cleared the area by hand, cutting the larger pines at ground level and taking care not to leave any needles that would enable re-growth.

The forest conversion site, a former commercial pine forest, lies adjacent to the Maungataniwha Native Forest, a 6,120-hectare swathe of New Zealand bush straddling the ridge system between the Te Hoe and Waiau Rivers in northern Hawke’s Bay, bordered to the north by Te Urewera National Park and to the west by the Whirinaki Conservation Forest.

Eighty years ago, the land was covered in mature native forest full of mistletoe, kiwi, kokako and kaka. The mature podocarps were logged and in the 1980s some 4,000 hectares were clear-felled and burnt for the planting of pine trees.

FLRT was established in 2006 to provide direction and funding for the restoration of threatened species of native fauna and flora in forests within the Central North Island. In 2018, it took control of the fully harvested block from Matariki Forests, which had held the licence to log the pine.

The aim is to re-vegetate the area with indigenous forest. There is sufficient native species seed in the soil to enable natural regeneration but the major challenge, and cost, is the elimination of regenerating pine seedlings which crowd out the slower growing native forest species.


It takes a decade to clear logged land of wilding pines completely and to get it to the point where it can be described as fully regenerated. During this time the land is nurtured, treated and monitored by the FLRT to ensure that the species they expect to appear do so.

The conversion is the FLRT’s biggest and most expensive single undertaking. It uses a mix of aerial spraying and manual clearance methods to keep the wilding pines at bay.

FLRT Chairman Simon Hall said the trust was “beyond grateful” to the Pan Pac Environmental Trust for the cash injection, which would go some way to helping to meet the costs of the project. The work had been funded equally by FLRT and the Department of Conservation between 2015 and 2018, but since then FLRT had been carrying the financial burden of about $70,000 a year on its own.

“Conservation in New Zealand is no longer the preserve of government agencies,” said Mr Hall. “The job’s too big and complex. Everyone has a role to play, ideally working together as much as they can. That’s why we’re delighted with, and very grateful for, private sector support such as that provided by the Pan Pac Environmental Trust. It’s vital to helping us get the job done.”

In addition to its native forest regeneration work, FLRT runs a restoration project aimed at boosting the wild-grown population of kākābeak (ngutukākā/Clianthus maximus), a flamboyant and extremely rare shrub; seeks to provide a secure breeding habitat for the whio (Blue Duck); and undertakes various pest control and eradication initiatives. It has also carved out a name for itself as one of the most prolific and successful kiwi conservation initiatives in the country.

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