The Jean Malpas Community Nursery

March 2016

Barbara and Neill Simpson have led the way in regenerating native plants in Central Otago

Barb and Neil Simpson are passionate conservationists working to promote conservation and to action their vision for a healthy environment where New Zealand native flora and fauna thrive. Their present venture is the Jean Malpas Community Nursery, set up to reforest the Wakatipu Basin with native plants while educating the locals. Neill and Barb have just been awarded New Zealand’s highest conservation honour – the Loder Cup Award. 

Barb and Neil Simpson have spent a lifetime ‘putting their money where their mouth is’ and working tirelessly to promote conservation. From early and enthusiastic participation in botanical societies, the couple has gone on to initiate projects and develop relationships that are making a very real difference to conservation efforts to protect, promote and reforest native plants.

Their work to reforest the Wakatipu Islands that were decimated by fire in the mid 90’s has morphed into the formation of the Wakatipu Reforestation Trust (WRT). The WRT has set up a community nursery and planting programme that has, in it’s first year, clocked up 300 registered volunteers, 2000 volunteer hours and 45 planted sites across the Wakatipu Basin.

The nursery grows native plants for the reforestation of local tracts of public land and works with volunteers to plant out these areas. Most of the Wakatipu Basin is rural land with little native vegetation. The Simpsons have recognized that gullies and other difficult and unused tracts of land are ripe for reforestation.

The areas the JMCN plants out are on Queenstown Lake District public land or DOC land. The nursery also works in with Project Crimson (Rata) and DOC’s Project Gold (Kowhai).

Established in March 2014 the JMCN has hired a part time Conservation Coordinator, Ange van der Laan, funded by the DOC Community Fund and has over 300 volunteers on their mailing list. In their first year they clocked up over 2000 volunteer hours. They have a management agreement with DOC for their work, which includes support for planting projects, educational activities and joint management of the coordinator role. The WRT are aided by DOC Community Ranger Susie Geh.

They are keen to involve as many people as possible. Ange organises school and community groups for nursery and planting out sessions. There are five schools and a pre-school presently involved in work on specific sites. There are also corporate groups, such as a group of Countdown employees and people from Crowne Plaza, who come out on planting days.

The WRT run regular Wednesday morning sessions at the nursery for potting up, maintenance and weeding.

The Wakatipu Reforestation Trust runs the Community Nursery and seeks the funding for the nursery.

The nursery is named after prominent local woman Jean Malpas, whose environmental trust awarded funding to establish the nursery and continues to support it. Jean was very active environmentally and “she’d been intimately involved in the Queenstown Lakes District, working to get environmental protection written into the scheme”.

The WRT applies for grants and funds the nursery. They need funds predominantly for the seedlings and plant protection materials.

The WRT was born from the Wakatipu Islands Reforestation Trust which was set up to plant out burnt areas after fires on Pigeon Island (in middle of the lake). With the work nearly complete on the islands after 20 years, Neill and Barb were seeking new areas to plant with natives. 

Barb says she developed her passion for native botany from Neill, Neill says he “just always had it”. His mother was a gardener and he took a botany course earlier on that led eventually to him and Barb joining the Wellington Botanical Society. They were actively involved, travelling through from Wanganui where they then lived. Neill says the Wellington Botanical society had a strong influence on him and the late Tony Druce, ”the best field botanist in New Zealand”, was his mentor.

Neill then set up the Wanganui Botanical Society and eventually became an honorary botanist for the Wanganui Museum. Neill also went onto complete a botany degree and worked for DOC. He retired 20 years ago but continues to consult privately on native planting. An example is Jack’s Point, a major new sub division development where 80% of the plantings will be native. “Some private individuals are doing amazing things, for example 23,000 native plants on one property alone”.

The nursery was set up with these objectives:

  1. To provide free or low cost native plants for community planting around the Wakatipu Basin to restore some of our natural heritage, provide a food source for native birds and to strengthen recent indigenous plantings along trails, project Gold plantings and other native planting around the lake.
  2.         To provide a source of native and/or exotic trees that can be used to replace existing shelter belts and plantations of conifers (mainly Douglas Fir) where their seedling spread threatens public and conservation land requiring a continuing maintenance cost.
  3. To provide an educational facility to enable children and schools as well as adults to become familiar with native plants, their benefits to native bird life and insects, their propagation and planting.

The nursery is about 30x30m “with an excellent covered potting facility”. Seedlings are brought in trays from Pukerau Nursery. Pukerau Nursery near Gore eco-sources round the Wakatipu basin area.

“Eco-sourcing is the process of locating native plant seeds for the purpose of growing and reintroducing plants back to their local natural environment. Pukerau Nursery collects seed from throughout Southland and Otago, from coastal and intermediate to inland climatic areas. Each seed batch that is collected has its location recorded so that the source of any plant at the nursery is known.”

They have a long list of plants that are found naturally in the Wakatipu Basin. At present they predominantly plant trees, shrubs, flaxes and toi toi.

Barb says, “Tree daisies do really well”, and two of the six varieties they plant are rare and endangered in the area.

They plant a lot of kowhai woodlands – part of this is the DOC Gold Project that is about restoring this once abundant woodland in the Central Otago area. Beech is another popular tree due to being fast growing. Barb’s particular favorite is the Fierce Lancewood, also endangered in the Wakatipu.

Education is a really important element of Barb & Neill’s vision. Barb, a retired school teacher talks about a tiered approach – they believe that schools cannot just visit once, they need to be involved over time for real learning and passion to take hold. Their present plan involves :

  1. DOC’s Susie Geh or a WRT representative goes into a class/school for an introduction
  2. Class then attends the nursery to pot up seedlings and help there
  3. Class plant out at specific area

In the future Barb and Neill are keen to also take the children into an old forest to show them what an ancient well established native forest looks like – they are presently looking at funding to help with buses for this.

Different schools that are involved have their own area where they plant out. They are presently working with the new Shotover School to draw up a curriculum related plan that will see the students there plant out their wetland.

Another delightful involvement is that of Arrowtown Early Childhood Centre that regularly brings their 4 year olds out. Their centre has planted an area close to them. 

Barb and Neill want to see natives replacing exotics and a community that prioritises planting natives before exotics on their own land. The WRT would like to replace difficult-access areas such as gullies that are often over-run by weeds, such as gorse and broome, with natives.

Ultimately they’d like to establish corridors of native plants from their plantings (this will also involve encouraging private landowners to take up the challenge to help ‘join’ the blocks).

They’re presently working on a map of the Wakatipu Basin to show the areas they’ve planted and areas they like to plant and will provide a native planting guide for the Wakatipu Basin (to be available on line and in hardcopy).