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FOREST INK: Good news story about reforestation

Documentary explores reforestation project in New Zealand
Botanist Hugh Wilson shows the forest he helped regenerate on the documentary Fools & Dreamers: Regenerating a Native Forest . (YouTube image)

Seems most news about meeting climate change goals is not very optimistic so when a good news story comes along I want to pass it on for all to enjoy. The story came in the form of a YouTube 30-minute video that premiered in July 2019 about a reforestation project in New Zealand’s Banks Peninsula.

Fools & Dreamers: Regenerating a Native Forest is a documentary about Hinewai Nature Reserve on New Zealand’s Banks Peninsula and its kaitiaki/manager of 30 years, botanist Hugh Wilson.

The story starts in 1987 when Hugh let the local community know of his plans to allow the introduced ‘weed’ gorse to grow as a nurse canopy to regenerate farmland into native forest. The locals were not only skeptical but outright angry – the plan was the sort to be expected only of “fools and dreamers.”

The video describes how the degraded gorse-infested farmland has been regenerated back into beautiful New Zealand native forest over the course of 30 years. Mr. Wilson is now considered a hero by the locals as he continues to oversee the 1,500 hectares of native forest, where birds and other wildlife have returned, and 47 known waterfalls are in permanent flow. If you want to see an example of a person who has found his calling, the video follows him around the reserve as he tends to the many chores needed to make the forest accessible to the numerous visitors who now enjoy the recovered forest. There is also some drama when a lightning storm causes a fire that threatens to wipe out thirty years of work, but the native forest shows how resilient it can be compared to the weed-infested areas that are still in the area.

I was impressed how Mr. Wilson took a very simple observation of how native forest plants were shade tolerant and able to grow into the gorse plants and eventually out-compete them because they were not shade tolerant. The invasive plants were out-competed just by letting natural succession take place.

Closer to home, I was curious to see if we had some local examples here in B.C. where degraded land was also recovered and turned into a more sustainable ecosystem. Using titles like food forestry, permaculture, regenerative landscaping and a number of related topics I found some examples in places like the East Kootenays, Slocan Valley, Galiano Island, Grand Forks and the Cowichan Valley that had established plots on a few acres or 20-plus acres in some cases. Some were built in conjunction with nurseries, meditation centres, community projects on abandoned farmland or steep land adjacent to urban buildings. With the price of food and uncertainties of food distribution there seems to be an interest in growing some of our food in areas that were taking up resources but with no real benefit to the locals. While many people will still want lawns, flower gardens and shade trees, some are looking at having a portion of the plants that may be edible as well so they can supplement their diet derived currently from the supermarkets.

Read More: FOREST INK: Reducing wood ash in landfills by enriching soil

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