Wilding warriors . . . Upper Clutha Wild Tree Group members Jenny and Arne Cleland. PHOTO: MARK PRICE

    Aiming to nip wilding trees in the bud

    (Republished from The Wānaka Sun Article - 13th October 2023) 

    A new Wānaka group launching next week is intent on turning back the tide of pine and Douglas fir trees spreading across Upper Clutha.

    The Upper Clutha Wilding Tree Group has a plan and some funding, and is now seeking public support.

    Two of its founders, Arne and Jenny Cleland, revealed the group’s plans to The Sun earlier this month, acknowledging wilding trees were a sensitive issue.

    Mrs Cleland said they had to proceed carefully ‘‘because it's a very sensitive subject and some people believe really strongly that any tree is a good tree’’.

    ‘‘They do not agree with what MPI [Ministry for Primary Industries] and all the wilding conifer groups are doing.

    ‘‘They'd rather see Douglas fir everywhere than preserve our biodiversity.

    ‘‘So, it’s a long game.’’

    The couple once owned Pukerau Nursery, specialising in native species, and have a depth of knowledge of the effects on the environment of fir and pine trees.

    Not only do they shade out native species, they also change the soil in a way that makes it unattractive for natives.

    The Clelands believe they have the chance to nip the Upper Clutha wilding tree problem in the bud because, unlike other parts of Otago and Southland, the trees are still mostly quite small.

    Mr Cleland said it did not initially look as if there was much of a problem ‘‘but we've only got to fly around the hills and you see it’’.

    One of their priorities will be to get rid of the trees from Stevenson's Peninsula, part of Mt Burke Station.

    Mrs Cleland said ‘‘when it snows, you can see these little, upright, dark green shapes up there, and they're just at the coning stage now’’.

    ‘‘So it's early days and very solvable, but if we do nothing, it'll look like Queenstown Hill.

    ‘‘They'll just cover the whole thing.’’

    The Clelands think the Stevenson's Peninsula Douglas firs probably came from the Lake Wānaka island of Mou Waho before they were eradicated there.

    Wind-blown seeds can travel 12km.

    Mr Cleland said it did not happen every year ‘‘because you have got to get a few things to line up but when it happens, a lot of seed can get distributed’’.

    Douglas firs have spread as far as the Neck, on the way to Makarora, and to the other side of Lake Hāwea.

    Part of the plan is to start from the outside of the affected land and work towards the centre, concentrating in particular on larger seed trees.

    The group has funding from the Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) and the Otago Regional Council that will allow some initial work to be done by contractors using helicopters — possibly before Christmas.

    However, keeping the work going is expected to cost millions of dollars, and that will require other sources of funding.

    The Mt Iron-Hidden Hills area is another they are keen to tackle.

    Mr Cleland said the big trees there had the potential to become ‘‘flaming candles’’ sending sparks flying if there was a fire in windy conditions.

    Mrs Cleland hoped they would ‘‘be able to have conversations with private landowners and maybe give them a little bit of financial help’’

    Part of their funding from the QLDC is aimed at wilding trees on the council’s Mt Iron Reserve.

    The launch: Lake Wānaka Centre, at 7pm, on October 17.

    Back to blog