How Degraded Land Was Regenerated Back into Stunning Forest! | Fools & Dreamers (Full Documentary)

(gentle piano music) – [Hugh] I think they basically thought we were naive greenies from the city. I’m sure they thought
that we had come here with all these ideas
and within a year or two we’d find it was all just too hard, and it wasn’t happening,
and we’d go again. Here we are, 31 years later, and it’s interesting
because I don’t think there’s a single farmer around us who, might not be completely
believing in what we’re doing, but I don’t think there’s a single farmer who’s not backing Hinewai now. (calm music) (peaceful music) I think it was in about October 1987 we wrote an article
for the local newspaper, which is called the Akaroa Mail. I just thought we’d let the community know what we were doing here. It was interesting because
we wrote this article and a few weeks later we
got this amazing response from one of the farmers. I can read you that
article, if you’d like. It was a much longer article than this, but I said in the
article, “My secret dream “is that one day a whole catchment, “from summit crest to sea, from
snow tussock to nikau palm, “from Celmisia to mamaku tree
fern and yellow-eyed penguins, “could be set aside for Nature to reassert her original covering.” That’s what I said in the article. And this was the response
from one of the farmers – again, I’m only reading
the last two paragraphs. This is a farmer who
lived in the next valley on a gorse-infested farm, which he’d been trying
to fight all his life. And he said, “I am all for
saving patches of bush, “but the thought of starting from scratch “on land that is clear enough “to be used productively
frankly appalls me. “As for shutting up a whole valley, “heaven help us from fools and dreamers!” I love that. I regard that as a great compliment, cause we need a few more fools and dreamers in the world, I think. (peaceful music) So, here we are on Hinewai Reserve. We’re in the southeast
corner of Banks Peninsula, which is on the east
coast of the South Island, jutting out into the Pacific. The amazing thing about
New Zealand, I think, is how recently people got here: across the Tasman Sea, 60,000 years ago when the aboriginal
people reached Australia, but only about 800 years ago until amazing Polynesian voyagers finally hit the biggest
landmass in Polynesia and settled here. The first named group we
know of is called Waitaha. Another wave of settlement
came called Ngati Mamoe from the North Island. And in about 1700, the
Ngai Tahu or Kai Tahu came southwards from
the North Island again. Then, of course, Pakeha came – Pakeha, the European settlers – from the other side of the planet, they arrived here. All these waves of human settlement had a huge impact ecologically,
as you can imagine. At the beginning, Banks
Peninsula was forested from side to side and from top to bottom in ancient old-growth forest. Both Maori and European settlement had a huge impact on the forest. So by 1900, less than 1% of the
old-growth forest was left. (calm music) So, Hinewai Reserve, it’s a result of the Maurice White Native Forest Trust. We look after 1,500 hectares. That’s quite a big area,
several catchments. The whole idea was to make it possible for nature to speed up the
regeneration of the native forest and restore the native biodiversity
as much as is possible, cause we’ve lost some things altogether. Conservation was our first goal, to restore the biodiversity on which we’re all completely dependent. We sometimes forget that. Some people say, “Well, why
are you restoring the forest?” In a way, saying, “Why are you doing it?” is like saying, “Why should
you love your mother?” That’s the sort of parallel. We’re totally, totally
dependent on vegetation and the wildlife it
supports for our own lives. We wouldn’t be here if
it wasn’t for plants and vegetation and animals
and birds and so on. Wait until you can see it
coming down from the seacoast, coming from the south. – Okay. – And there’s lookouts here and here. So, our prime goal is conversation, but from the very
beginning we decided that people would be able to come here freely and whenever they wanted without asking, could just come and walk our tracks. And there’s many, many
kilometres of walking tracks now. So it’s really like a
little mini national park right on the doorstep
of Akaroa itself. So, there’s two centres of
settlement, if you like. The house we’re in now is
my post-earthquake house. Previously, I lived in an older house, just about 100 metres
away across to the east, and that was somewhat damaged
in the big earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. Andrew, who’s been a trustee, came to work here with
us several years ago, and he lives during the week
in my old earthquake-damaged house and goes home to his
wife, Susanne, in the weekends. And then Otanerito Homestead, Paul and Tricia live down there and it’s about one hour’s walk away. (distant conversation) – And there’s a few of them
but I can’t work out how many. (river flowing)
(birds chirping) – This is Hinewai Stream,
the first crossing. This is permanent flow here, even in the driest of drought years we’ve never lost our flow
in the largest streams. And it’s amazing when you think of it, because a lot of people
think of Banks Peninsula as being sort of an
open, dry, grassy place, but this is really what
Banks Peninsula is and was. And the water is a very
prominent part of it. (river flowing) We just keep finding new
waterfalls as we explore more. This is one of the first ones we found. It’s right on the main track,
so everybody sees it – we put a little one
-minute track off to it. It’s called Fuchsia Falls. (water flowing) It’s only one of about 47 waterfalls across the whole of Hinewai that we’ve found so far and named. (calming music) (birds chirping) Four. – You can’t meet Hugh
and not just like him. Hugh’s the boss and he’s the day-to-day
manager of the reserve. He gets up everyday, he
has the same routine, and he goes to work. And work is hard. We don’t use vehicles to get to work, so the work site might
be two hour’s walk away. And so, two hours after walking to work, you start work and you work all day and then you walk home for two hours. And when he gets home, he’ll have his bath and have his dinner and from
about 7 o’clock or 7:30, he’s ready for his evening, and so he sits at his table
and he starts working. And he does all the paperwork
involved with Hinewai. He writes letters, he writes submissions, he writes and he writes and he writes. Then, the next day, he gets
up and off he goes again. He’s amazing. It’s his life, it’s his dream. (birds chirping) (piano music) – I better stop there,
it gets too difficult. (laughs) Ha. (mysterious music) From a very, very early age I was walking on Banks Peninsula. I remember getting very
interested in bird life and I thought, I’ll grow
Banks Peninsula plants in the back garden of our family home. And I just got fascinated
by the way plants grew. Just everything about plants just completely caught my fancy. It was interesting at university because I had decided
from the very beginning to do both arts and science. And it was botany I went
on with really. So for several years I’d been tramping on a regular, systematic grid pattern of sampling across Banks Peninsula doing in much greater detail than had ever been done before a detailed, botanical look at the peninsula. And as I was doing this, I was thinking, “Gosh, I thought it
had been completely trashed “but there’s so much still here. “A lot of it coming back.” So all this made me think that I’d love to look after a bit of this
land and let this all happen. And amazingly I was
introduced to this guy called Maurice White. And he’d set up a fund to purchase land for conservation purposes
on Banks Peninsula. He said, “Would you be
interested in being involved?” and I think I waited
about half a nano second and said “Yes!” (laughs) We started looking for land, and I kept my eyes sharp open. And on this particular bit of land, which was the original part
of Hinewai – 109 hectares – I said to Maurice, “Look, this is ideal, “it’s a reasonable size, “but not huge. “It’s got old-growth
forest on it so we can see “what the end result would be
of a regeneration program. “And it’s basically uneconomic marginal hill country, “which really shouldn’t
really be farmed at all.” September 1987 we bought that land. Four years later, it became hugely bigger because we had the opportunity
to buy Otanerito Station, which was right next to us. And it made it 10 times bigger. (branches and leaves crunching) The local community
was a bit suspicious about what we were doing, I have to say. – All the farmers in the area
thought he was a total nutter. – When I first heard of the fact that Hugh and the Trust were going to
use gorse to help regenerate the natives, I was a skeptic of it. – They went, “No he’s
gonna let gorse grow! “You can’t let gorse grow!” I come from a rural background. Gorse is a weed. You get rid of gorse. You burn it. You poison it. You bulldoze it. But you get rid of gorse. – Gorse is a terrible, terrible
weed for pastoral farming. It’s shocking. And no one, let alone me, would deny that. But it’s also, almost nothing is black and white, is it? If you’ve got it and it’s
sort of infested the landscape, irretrievably in a way, it’s worth looking at its good points and saying, well maybe we
don’t have to fight it. On this marginal hill country, fighting it usually makes it worse, because that’s what gorse thrives on. So we said, No we’re gonna
just leave the gorse alone on this gorse-infested pasture. We don’t want pasture, we want native forest to
regenerate and gorse is a wonderful nurse canopy for
native forest regeneration. It’s an opportunistic plant; it takes advantage of cleared
ground and forest climates. But it can’t stand shade. It has to have full sunlight. So as soon as it’s shaded, it’s dead. So it grows quite fast in the full light. But then other things come
in underneath it, naturally. Shade-tolerant hardwood trees, for example. And they just thrive
under the gorse shelter. The gorse is a nitrogen fixer
so it’s actually fertilising the soil all the time with nitrates. A very important nutrient for plant life. This is old man gorse
here, with a few natives, often it’s thicker than this sometimes it’s thinner than this. But eventually, all these
natives come up under here. The one that’s
probably the most abundant one of all is Mahoe or Whiteywood, which we can see here. It thrives under the shade
but once it gets its head up it loves the sun as well. So as soon as the head’s
up above into the light, it’s shading the gorse and the gorse dies. As all these lower parts
of the gorse is all dead because it’s shaded. – I initially thought that the progression from gorse to native
trees would take 50 years. But in 10 years, you could see it. You could see them coming
up through the gorse in areas that I didn’t realise that there’d be natives growing. (calm music) – And of course you’re
not getting pasture back. But you’re getting native forest back, with all its benefits. Increased benefits now
with carbon sequestration, as well as all the ecological
and biodiversity values that are being fostered this way. Our whole philosophy is what I call minimal interference management. People have an inflated
opinion of what homo sapiens is capable of. I hate to say this because
I’m a homo sapiens as well. (laughs) But we’re really good at damaging things, we’re not all that good at
putting things right. But all the serious work
of natural regeneration of native forest and wildlife
has been done by nature. People say to us, “Oh, you’re planting all this forest back?” And it’s a sensible sounding question, but really if we were
planting this forest back, we’d never do it – on
1,500 hectares of land? Of wild, hilly, rough terrain. We’d never do it. Nature’s planting the forest back, in totally ecologically appropriate and scientifically interesting ways. (calm music) There’s millions of hectares
of productive farmland in New Zealand, on good soils that are on easy terrain. But then there’s also, let’s say millions of hectares also in marginal hill country
that are not actually that productive, but with
our farming ethic we sort of think, It’s cleared
of forest, we should keep farming it and producing food. And of course we need to produce food, we all have to eat. So we’re all dependent on
the farms producing food. Perhaps we could be a bit more sensible, maybe eat a little bit
less meat and make it more efficient and
environmentally friendly. But my idea, even New Zealand wide, and particularly with
the possibility of income now from this land as
carbon sequestration. You stop trying to farm that land. You don’t even plant exotic forest on it – for timber maybe but certainly not for carbon sequestration;
that’s just replacing one ridiculous folly with
another ridiculous folly. The scene is wide open
for taking this marginal gorse-infested hill country
and letting it just do what Hinewai’s doing on
a much grander scale, and regenerate into
native forest on its own. We don’t have to plant this stuff. Nature’s doing it. All we’ve got to do is take
away the deleterious things that are stopping it happening fast. As well as sequestering carbon, you get all the other benefits. You get the huge biodiversity on which we’re totally dependent as well. And we also share the world
with all the other species that have evolved as well. That’s a crucial thing
we tend to forget about. (birds chirping) (men talking) It’s gotta be reasonably deep
’cause we don’t want it to… Higher. Right here. – Where do you want it? – In the middle. (hammering sounds) (calm music) – Everything’s done very slow here. People walk. Paul and I will use a vehicle but Hugh doesn’t use a vehicle. He’ll cycle or he’ll walk. So he doesn’t believe we
should be using fossil fuels, and instead of saying, “Don’t use fossil fuels”, he just rides his bike. And he’ll use public transport. – I’m a technological person like anyone in the modern world. I have a house, with electricity. My hot water is heated by the sun, by solar panels on the roof. But I don’t have photovoltaic cells to create electricity here. We’re on a national grid here, so that’s quite a big technological thing. I have a landline telephone. I don’t have a cell phone. It would be pointless anyway because we’re out of cell phone
range here, thank goodness. Thank heavens. (laughs) I’m not against all this technology; I’m not anti it. But I don’t want it. I’m very happy with the level
of technology I have here. (wood cutting) I do see, unfortunately,
that with uncritical acceptance of a lot of this technology, we’re losing a lot of our old skills, and artistic and creative satisfaction. I really do feel that quite strongly. So I’m not in a sort of mood to just roll with the tide and
take on all this technology, which I think is unnecessary for me, and actually not all that
good for the community, to be honest. It has wonderful advantages as well. And some of the things
that technology produces, I’d be the first to praise. I mean, the bicycle, for example, I regard as the peak of
transport technology. And it’s technology and I love it. (calm music) And I love my work here. I meet innumerable people here. I’m not a hermit. – Papa. – Papa? I do interact with the
rest of humanity for sure. (laughs) And love it. My roots are here. I get immense satisfaction from
seeing what is happening here. (calm music) Fire has always been our
biggest fear, I’d say. In 2011 we had a major
lightning strike here. So that morning was terrible. We actually saw the
thunderstorm come over. It was almost a rainless
thunderstorm in July. It was the driest winter
we’ve ever recorded. So the conditions were like summer-like conditions here. And in this electrical storm come over, we saw the lightning
strike come down and it hit Full Moon Bluff across
here, on the high ridge. And it just exploded into flame. We had an immediate response, it was I think seven helicopters, and the helicopters could
barely fly that first day because of the wind. So it largely just kept burning. The firefighters said, “Look,
we just don’t know what “it’s going to do overnight”. So I packed up what I could. It was one of the worst
moments of my life. And I was evacuated to Akaroa. Jumped on my bike and rode to Akaroa. In the morning, I woke
up there and looked up and the whole of Taraterehu
Stony Bay Peak was just ringed with fire. And by that time, the wind had died down. And then the helicopters could fly. And they took monsoon
bucket, after monsoon bucket out of putakitaki pond. But the interesting thing was every time it was burning fast through gorse, every time it hit a bush edge, a regenerated native bush edge, or even beech forest, older growth forest, it just went out. So there was almost no
native bush destroyed. Huge areas of gorse with
natives coming through but was still largely gorse, that was burning hot and fast. So it burnt, I think, for 27 hours. But it was very emotional for me. I came back the next morning to my house. Found it still here. The fire was out. But the whole landscape in front of me was just blackened. It was just a complete nightmare. (laughs) Yeah. I can still feel that emotion just almost leaping on me like a panther. (calm music) (peaceful music) – I think that the
community now by and large is absolutely in support of Hinewai. We realised that the way farming was done over the years had to be changed. And I think from what
Hugh has done has helped people realise that it
can be done in a good way. – I think it’s a really
interesting time to be involved in conservation. There’s this great ground
swell now of people who are closing off whole
gullies because it’s uneconomical land so they’re
letting the bush grow back. And they’re fencing it off
so that nature can be there. So that we can have these corridors. And so that the birds can
move and the insects can move and things can get from
the summit to the sea and over the hills to the next one. – Forestry alone won’t save
us from global warming, because a lot of the
sequestered carbon is locked up in fossil fuels. But even covering every inch of dry land in the world with forest
wouldn’t sequester enough if we keep on burning the fossil fuels that have been sequestered
for millions of years. So forests are definitely
part of the solution but not the whole part. We have to change the way
we use energy as well. In a big way – we have to do it very quickly or we’re really stuffed. No one person can solve
these massive problems, so all you can do and
all the universe can expect of you is to do your best. Your best can be all
sorts of different scales. We’re doing our best here
in terms of human life and the ecology and
biodiversity and climate and other species sharing
the planet with us. All those things. – Plant for the birds, plant for the bees. Throw a few flowers in your garden. It doesn’t have to be as big as Hinewai. – So if people can look at Hinewai and say, “Gosh, this is
succeeding in lovely ways. “I’ll do something in my own
little corner of the world “that draws some sort of
inspiration from there” – I’d be delighted. But that has never been our intention. Our intention was just
to do the right thing in this corner of the world. But if that’s repeated over
and over and over again well the possibilities are immense. The problems are immense, but the solutions are immense too. (upbeat peaceful music)

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