Farm Forestry and Eco-Tourism

April 2009

An award-wining model of sustainable farm forestry and tourist lodge

What started as a small woodlot to stabilise some steep land has been turned into an award winning example of sustainable farm forestry. Along with that, Kees and Kay Weytmans have built an upmarket tourist lodge of locally produced timbers and materials, and now host overseas visitors, weddings and corporate functions where guests can sample home-grown venison, Highland beef, salami, honey and other home produce in very pleasant surroundings. Surpluses are sold at the Gisborne Farmers’ Market.

Kees’s training experience and achievements mean that he has plenty to pass on to other farmers on how to run a small forest successfully. He can show what he has done and how his silviculture has affected the growth of forest trees.

Kees Weytmans trained in the Netherlands as a forester and spent many years in Third World countries working in forestry aid projects. In Nepal he met Kay, and in 1987 returned with her to Gisborne where her family had a small dairy farm.

“I couldn’t get a job in forestry and I started growing melons because I didn’t want to work for someone else any more,” says Kees.

Tree planting didn’t start until 1991. Kay’s father was not in favour of forest because it would shade the land, but when a fire swept through a steep hillside covered in gorse the decision was made to put the area into trees to help stabilise it.

“Our first priority was to establish forest to hold the land on the hill and have a high density of trees to shade out the gorse. Initially I worked very intensively on it because this was my one and only forest and I wanted everything to be perfect – other people have a boat or they go on expensive holidays, we put our money into the forest.”

“We planted about 50% in pines, 35% in C. lusitanica and 15% in Tasmanian Blackwood and black walnut. Part of the forestry success is based on my father in-laws’ knowledge of the soil and my knowledge of tree requirements, and that has combined very well with the result that the form and growth rates of trees have been amazing.”

In the early days while his woodlot was young, Kees was growing melons for export to Japan, so in winter he had a quiet period when he could focus on silviculture. – mainly careful pruning and culling of unwanted trees. Later he was contracted by larger-scale forest owners to provide information on what they had got in their forests.

He kept up the intensive management of his own woodlot, which resulted in some outstanding achievements:

• Under 13cm DOS (diameter over stumps) in the C. lusitanica and 15-16cm in the pines – well under the industry standards.

• Very good maps and records of the woodlot

• Production thinnings have been used on the property for landscaping and a gazebo.

The Weytmans’ efforts have been recognised as being outstanding by a variety of organisations:

• Awarded the 2003 Rural Environmental Awards by the Gisborne Regional Council, in cooperation with the Department of Conservation

• Awarded the 2006 Farm Forester of the Year Award, North Island, by the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association.

• Awarded the Gold and the Supreme Award during the 2006 House of the Year Awards as well as the Pink Batt Insulation Award by the Master Builders Association.

• Used as a case study by Scion as an example of how farmers can successfully repair damage to land and adapt to changing climatic conditions

“We have achieved what we set out to achieve as far as the eco-forest is concerned, and what has won us the awards has been a good eye for detail, good records, and also the timely undertaking of the silviculture,” says Kees.

“However, it needs to be clearly understood is that everything is related – the forest is not just there for timber production and the animals are not just their livestock production. Thee trees are used for landscaping, we have just completed a gazebo from our own timber, visitors marvel at the Highland cattle and they are really living statues they have a dual purpose of being a pleasing part of the visual landscape as well is providing meat etc. It is congruent with our undertaking because Kay is of Scottish background at all the cattle have got Scottish names!”

“We have about 50 deer, 35 cattle and 15 calves. The venison we use as meat on the property and it is supplied in vacuum packs. We can’t do that with the beef as yet because we haven’t found an operator who will do that for us, but it is in the plan.”

“Three years ago we joined the Gisborne farmers market and that has become an integral part of our operation. We sell our own honey, venison striploin, tenderloin and salami, and some surplus vegetables, and we have got a good customer base amongst Gisborne people as well as tourists.”

“We would sell smoked eel and other eel products to from our pond, but we would have to spend thousands of dollars on buying quota and then getting a permit. It’s crazy, but true.”

Until a few years ago Kees ran a forestry service company employing up to 14 people measuring forests in terms of cubic metres, trees per hectare and the quality of those trees per hectare, and produced detailed maps and records for forest owners. Today he does that on his own.

“One of the successes of our venture here is that I have successfully married the fickleness of forestry with the seasonality of tourism. Most of the forestry work is in the winter and in the summer I sometimes don’t go to the forest more than one day a fortnight,” he says.

The tourism venture is Knapdale Lodge, the house of their dreams built in 2004 using local timbers, which they have opened up as a luxury tourist lodge capable of hosting up to four people. The buildings and surrounds are also used as a reception and conference facility for up to 80 people. Everything is run as sustainably as possible with the smallest ecological footprint possible.

The Weytman’s also run guided farm and forest tours, and authentic Maori experiences which take place on the registered historic sites at Knapdale. Whaitiripapa Pa is one of four defending pa sites protecting Tirotirowhetu, a village established between 1300 and 1400 AD that housed up to 2500 Maori. Waka Toa, a Gisborne based kapa haka group, welcome visitors onto the site with authentic cultural performances, and explain the history and significance of the area.

“We are Gisborne’s only five-star guest and hosted facility, and we haven’t got as many bookings as we would have liked but we are far exceeding the business projections on the functions, weddings and corporate dinner parties, planning retreats etc. And it is all built around the farm and our way of living,” says Kees.

“In the future we hope to add a carbon offsetting tree planting programme. This will also help improve soil conservation, water quality, biodiversity, landscape values and timber production.