It is almost five years since the previous owner of Tane's Rest clear felled the first generation of pine trees and dragged their logs to the end of the driveway for loading onto trucks.
As a result, pine cones were spread about and the seeds they contained have now germinated and grown into a patchy distribution of wilding pines each one to two metres tall. During our Easter visit we felled all of these wildings and dragged them to piles that we will burn later in the winter.
The pernicious and invasive nature of wildling pines is well illustrated on our front boundary where the road curves around the end of the ridge line forming our northern boundary. Here the steep cutting has gradually been revegetated by kanuka to form a micro forest that is about 40m long but only 5m wide. The kanuka now has a developing understorey of native shrubs and plants that have established from seed carried by birds that have used the kanuka as a roost site.
The wind has also carried pine seeds in amongst the kanuka and these have also happily germinated and grown.
While looking how we might reinstate the fence line along this part of the boundary we spotted the pines so returned with a saw to remove them. To our surprise this small strip of canopy kanuka was supporting eight pine trees the largest of which was 8 metres tall with a trunk over 100mm in diameter. Left alone these trees would have completely dominated the kanuka and would have become a nightmare to remove with the road below them.
Wilding pines are a huge ecological problem in the South Island and also in the tussock lands of the central North Island. They are a problem that stems from the industrial scale of growing production pine forests and are a form of pollution that should be made the responsibility of the polluter. Perhaps with modern breeding and tissue culture we could create a sterile pine tree that produces wood but not seed.
We also have a growing wilding pine problem in our native forest that must be addressed, but that is another story. While we recognise the benefits of having pines growing on our steep slopes we also recognise the problems they can cause so we have resolved to cut out any pine tree that might impact native conservation values.
At Tane's Rest pines have their place and will be keep in their place.
With the flurry of activity to purchase Tāne's Rest and the push to make the most of the summer and autumn weather we now understand what we have to do to make the property ecologically sustainable. Now we must turn our thoughts to how we might make the project financially sustainable.
Our pine trees are the obvious source of revenue, but as they are only three years old, harvesting income is a long way in the future. The first rotation of pines were also planted before the 1989 cutoff date for the emissions trading scheme therefore we do not qualify for carbon credits.
Our plantation area is considered a pre-1989 forest so if the trees were not replanted after harvesting a deforestation levy would have had to be paid. Instead we must keep this area covered in forest and get no credit for doing so even though the trees will absorb tonnes of carbon dioxide over their life.
Clear felling is the traditional method of harvesting plantation forests in New Zealand and it is ecologically devastating. The trees stabilise the land and gradually develop an understorey of native plants that support many species of wildlife. Then just as things are looking great the whole lot is obliterated. On steep country this means storms generate slips, sediment and pine debris washes into rivers and weeds like gorse and pampas grass quickly colonise the disturbed ground.
We have resolved to never clear fell the forest again.
There is another way. Using a continuous cover, closed canopy forest model, as practised very successfully in Britain and Europe, we will log our forest on a sustainable yield basis. By moving to a low volume, high value harvesting plan, we believe that what we produce will be more valuable and will avoid clear felling.
This is our direction. We have logging infrastructure in place with tracks, benches and a loading site. We are reasonable close to a port, we have logging expertise close at hand and when our trees are grown we will be able to harvest to the best log prices. We will have to invest wisely in silviculture and forest management with the aim being to produce the highest value timber that we can, and we will have to maintain the infrastructure.
It is a pity we can't get carbon credits so because we can't be bigger we just have to be smarter.
Easter has been our autumn visit to Tāne's Rest as this year Easter is late and combines nicely with ANZAC Day just after the following weekend. However because Easter is in the second half of April the weather is now deeply autumnal with cool days and the first cold nights.
Our visit was spent installing our rain harvesting and water storage system.
The summer drought on the East Cape has mercifully broken and green has returned to the palette of colours that paint the Tolaga Bay landscape. However, over the last month the rainfall pendulum has swung to the other extreme with the remnants of two tropical cyclones having made landfall in the Bay of Plenty and pushing over the East Coast hill country to the East Cape.
The first of these, in early April, was Cyclone Debbie that flooded Edgecumbe after the Rangitaiki River burst through a stopbank and caused dreadful damage. The second was Cyclone Cook that brought a combination of rain and high winds to Tolaga Bay, which might have been OK on its own, but Cook arrived just a week after Debbie had drenched the area and there had not been sufficient time for the soil to dry out.
Our little valley faces almost due east and would have been catching the wind like a wide-mouth funnel and just as with water in a funnel the wind piled up in the valley as it could not get out quickly enough. The wind at ground level would have been trapped by the winds screaming over the ridges and with nowhere to go it simply went round and round between the walls of the valley just as water does as it rushes to a plughole.
These twisting winds, combined with the saturated soil has meant that many of our pines on the lower slopes of the valley have been twisted like a corkscrew and then blown over when the soft waterlogged soil could no longer hold them up.
Our pine trees are nearly three years old so some are nearly two metres tall. Unfortunately for other growers in the area the wind and rain have also knocked over trees that are over 10 metres tall so now their plantation has been transformed from neat rows of soldiers standing to attention to a rabble of drunken sailors lurching at all angles. Our hearts go out to those foresters because at least we have a chance to straighten up many of our trees and heel the soil back around their trunks.
Cyclones and plantation timber trees definitely do not mix, especially when the cyclones hit with a double punch and we still have the rest of winter ahead of us. This is a timely reminder of the impacts of weather in the countryside and just as the drought caused challenges for others over the summer so we will face our challenges over the coming winter.
Others have been been worse affected but no-one on the Cape has faced the devastation wrought in Edgecumbe. We will be thankful our damage is only some lop sided pine trees that can thinned in years to come.
This blog is the ongoing story of our piece of paradise on the East Cape we have named Tāne's Rest. Visit our About pages to read more about our project, and feel free to leave a comment on any of our posts.
Uawa County existed for 45 years from 1 December 1918 to 1 April 1964 before merging with Cook County. Click on the map to download a copy.