James had heavenly help with his garden

BRIDGET RAILTON
Last updated 05:00 28/07/2014
James Pirie
JOHN HAWKINS/ Fairfax NZ
GOD'S GARDEN: James Pirie with the area of native bush he’s been preserving. Pirie is a finalist in the Southland Environment Awards, which will be announced next Thursday. 

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God has a garden and it's located near Tokanui.

That's what 86-year-old Southland man James Pirie says of the expanse of native bushland he's been preserving since he bought it about 15 years ago. The Morton Mains sheep farmer is among the 30-odd nominees for the Southland Environment Awards this week for his work preserving a block of native bush fondly dubbed "God's Garden" about 3km from Tokanui on the Southern Scenic Highway.

"The way I look at it, why put a whole lot of work into planting native trees when you can preserve something that's already there," he explains.

The 47 hectare block is full of trees, 103 species in all, including rimu, Hall's totara and miro, and attracts a veritable zoo of birdlife.

"My wife could sit down near the road and could hear the bird song from there," he said.

Most of the countryside in the area had been milled for logging in the past century, but this block was spared largely because of its steep access route, something which makes it a good challenge for a local walking group Pirie escorts in there from time to time.

Set back a half hour's uphill hike from the road, the steep gradient would put a few people off venturing up. Not Pirie - he said he tried to get out there whenever he could.

"It's just lovely in there. It's got quite a few orchids high up in the rata trees. I can't see them all but I can smell them."

Pirie is a finalist in the achiever category of the Southland Environment Awards and was a highly commended award winner in the individual category in 2010. Other categories in the annual awards are school, commercial, individual, farming, community group, and innovator, which have attracted a range of entries.

Environment Southland communications co-ordinator Adrienne Henderson said entries were strong across all categories and farming had seen a surge in entries compared to previous years.

Award winners will be announced on July 31.

Southland Environment Awards finalists:

Category - School: Balfour, Lees Street Kindergarten, Pukerau Primary, Riverton Primary

Commercial: Arch Draught: Bella Kai, Invercargill Brewery, Mainland Minerals Southern

Individual: Cathy Macfie, Graham and Heather Milligan, Grant Fleming and Karen Harvey, Joyce Kolk, Mick Carran

Farming: David and Joanna Diprose, Ewan and Dianne Mathieson, Grant Fleming and Karen Harvey, Mark and Elspeth Thomson, Maurice King and Rosie Hore, Phil Reid and Ros Cole, Southern Centre Dairies

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Achiever: Fiordland Wapiti Foundation, Greening ILT Kidzone, James Pirie, Mick Carran, Pakeke Lions, Phil Reid and Ros Cole

Community group: Bluff Hill Motupohue Environment Trust, Fiordland Wapiti Foundation, Greening ILT Kidzone, Kowhai District Girl Guiding, Makarewa River Liaison Committee, Mokotua Public Hall Society, Otatara Landcare Group, Pakeke Lions, Southland Community Nursery, Southland Forest and Bird Society

Innovator: Arch Draught, Graham and Heather Milligan, Invercargill Brewery, Southern Centre Dairies

- The Southland Times

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