Pockets of the 508-hectare farm resemble an arboretum, with precious specimen trees fenced and surrounded by other trees planted there to protect it from stock and the elements.
Years ago Jim attended a Landcare lecture about having a good influence on the land.
Today the giant eucalypts, the valuable Tasmanian blackwoods (Acacia melanoxylon) (a good straight trunk can be worth $4,000 a cubic metre, says Jim), Douglas firs and Oregon pines, totara, sturdy pin oaks, giant redwoods, some kahikatea that Forest & Bird gave him, towering Leyland cypresses planted to screen the farm from SH2, tupelos and liquidambars with their brilliant autumn colour and hundreds of others are all testament to how he carefully he took that lecture to heart.
He is watching the progress of a hybrid oak he got from Appletons Tree Nursery in Nelson, a Quercus robur ‘Fastigiata’, which has an elegant upright shape and appears to be thriving.
The kanuka and manuka, which are almost in full flower (“it’s nearly time to tell the beekeeper in bring more hives”), have gained more value – “from cutting it and bulldozing it, I am now planting it... for the bees”.
On his daily rounds of the farm that his son, Simon, now runs, Jim gets a lot of pleasure seeing the trees stake their claim on the land, both the trees that preceded him and the ones he has planted. The biggest rata on the property was there long before he took over the farm.
“I thought the stock were going to kill it because they used to camp under it so that’s why we fenced it off and planted around it; that tree is now worth about $5,000 to me”, but it’s not a cost that Jim begrudges.
It’s clear to see Jim, who is now in his mid-70s, loves his trees.
When he ran the farm, which has been in his family for more than 150 years, it was about 60:40 cattle to sheep, with 200 station cows. Now his son runs 40 station cows but he’s also rearing bulls, which is cheaper than buying them in.
They are mostly speckle park crosses and angus hereford crosses.
Jim enjoys still being part of the farm and helps out with the haymaking – mowing paddocks – and checking on stock and other tasks. “I need to get
out – this morning I’ve done a couple of hours of spraying,” he said.
In line with current regulations, and with more stringent rules around the fencing of waterways likely, Jim says his son is lucky because a lot of it, along with planting, has already been done. “We were ahead of our time. We did it mainly to control the river wood trees, which were taking fences out.”
Simon is now trialling different tree varieties to carry on the planting but it is still going to be a massive cost to ensure all the waterways are compliant. The planting has other benefits as well as keeping stock out. Jim has discovered that a one-kilometre section of one of the streams that has established trees along it is about 2 degrees Celsius cooler because of the shade.
The Te Mara stream goes into Waipoua River on the property but by the time the Waipoua has reached Masterton, it has accumulated a lot of water, from the Kiriwhakapapa, Mikimiki and Matahiwi streams as well.
About 20 acres (8ha) of the property between the woolshed near the homestead, where Simon now lives, to where Jim lives above the “Big Pond” is covered by a QEII covenant. Jim thinks now that the covenant should be extended to another area on the farm called Norm’s Marsh.
It was built in tribute to Norman Marsh, a great supporter of DU and generous benefactor when it came to paying for the cost of creating wetlands, several – on Jim’s and other properties – thanks to Norm’s largesse. Jim, who was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to conservation in 2016, is a life member of the QEII National Trust.
The property has about 32 ponds in all. One was created after former DU president John Cheyne, on a visit to the farm, suggested a particular rushy patch would make a good wetland. “It took me three days to bulldoze it and I had to hire a digger for a half-day,” Jim says. Another he calls the “10-Minute
Wetland” – “that’s how long it took to block the end of it with a bulldozer – a pair of shoveler nested there this year and had five ducklings”.
On the big pond, Jim’s two mute swans, which he suspects are both male,compete with scores of scaup for the daily treats delivered by Jim. He says there were 32 scaup ducklings on the pond last year. As well as feeding the swans and scaup and other ducks, Jim has more for the pheasants, Cape Barren geese and quail that frequent the lawns around the house.
The other birds that visit the farm also have plenty to feast on. There’s dragon’s gold kowhai and kaikamako for the tui and bellbirds, tree lucerne,
or tagaste, for the wood pigeons and Himalayan strawberry trees, which all the birds love. He notes that the lucerne makes excellent firewood, “as good as maire”, something that many people don’t realise.
A welcome distraction over Christmas and New Year, as Jim recovers from an injury, has been the arrival on the lawn of some baby quail looking “like little bumblebees”.
He has been trying to breed quail for several years – there were five last year – but this year he has spotted one pair with 11 chicks, one with three and another with two chicks. “I can just look out the window and see them feeding on the lawn. It’s just magic to have them around all the time.”
For Jim, one of his favourite times of day is at night – sitting out on the deck having a whisky, with the Cape Barren on the lawn and the pheasants coming up to use the automatic feeder, and quail running along the deck.