Business and conservation leads to success

Philip Woodward, of Merrill and Ring, at Manuka Island Forest in Northbank.

Philip Woodward, of Merrill and Ring, at Manuka Island Forest in Northbank.

A Wairau Valley forestry block balancing good business with good conservation was one of the winners at the Marlborough Environment Awards. Sophie Preece finds out what's in store for people attending the Manuka Island field day on Saturday.

When the Manuka Island Trust bought a block of Marlborough farmland for forestry in 1992, they faced objections from conservation groups concerned for a rare fern bird habitat.

More than two decades on, the operation has taken out the top forestry spot at the Marlborough Environment Awards, for integrating a successful production forest with conservation, landscape and recreational values.

Merrill & Ring New Zealand's Murray Turbitt, who manages Manuka Island Forest in the Upper Wairau Valley with Philip Woodward, said the American owner had given them "free range" to manage for both the environment and production potential.

"We never had quibbles about doing the job properly and that's why it's turned out to be such a good forest and property over all."

The rare fern bird colony, on the lower reaches of the Eves Stream catchment, was protected through the sale of that land to DOC, and two other areas put into protection by Department of Conservation covenants, including the Garden Covenant on the banks of the Goulter River, with a river terrace and tall kanuka forest on the hill country, and The Boulder Creek Covenant on the lower slopes of Star Hill, with regenerating beech and kanuka forest.

There are no forestry plantings within several hundred metres of the old homestead, leaving an outlook over its orchard to Mt Patriarch in the distance. "That view was protected right from the beginning," said Turbitt.

These were just a few of the initiatives that saw the operation win the Marlborough Forest Industry Association Forestry Award last month, with judges remarking on 450ha of extensive native sections, as well as environmentally sound harvesting techniques, minimal earthworks and wide riparian strips.

In their report they said the main objective was to grow a high-value crop of intensively managed radiata pine and Douglas fir. "However, what stood out was the enthusiasm for Manuka Island as much more than a production forest. Murray and Phil are dedicated to balanced management which values biodiversity, landscape, historic and recreation along with production."

The men will host a field day at the site this Saturday, where visitors will hear how the flat and rolling terrain allows for relatively low impact harvesting, with approximately 70 per cent suitable for ground-based mechanised logging systems.

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Turbitt said the field day was an opportunity to visit an intriguing landholding, once part of one of Marlborough's largest farms.

"It's a unique property. A lot of people in the rural sector of Marlborough have known about Manuka Island for decades, but it's been a kind of mystery place. It's big and not a lot of people ever got the chance to go there."

The Manuka Island Forest field day is on Saturday, April 18, 9am-3pm. Meet at Church Corner, Wairau Valley Township, to car pool in 4WD vehicles. BYO lunch, suitable footwear and clothing. For more information and bookings contact Nicky Eade at Marlborough District Council on 03 520 7400 or or go to the website at

Other Marlborough Environment Awards field days include:

- Habitat Enhancement at Kaipupu Point on Tuesday, April 21

- Farming at the Gerard's Pelorus Sound farm on Wednesday, April 29

Supreme/Business Innovation with New Zealand Dryland Forest Initiative on Tuesday, May 12

- Wine Innovation at Pernod Ricard on Wednesday, May 13

For more information on the field days go to

 - The Marlborough Express


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