Barb and Neil Simpson are passionate conservationists working to promote conservation and to action their vision for a healthy environment where New Zealand native flora and fauna thrive. Their present venture is the Jean Malpas Community Nursery, set up to reforest the Wakatipu Basin with native plants while educating the locals. Neill and Barb have just been awarded New Zealand’s highest conservation honour – the Loder Cup Award.
Barb and Neil Simpson have spent a lifetime ‘putting their money where their mouth is’ and working tirelessly to promote conservation. From early and enthusiastic participation in botanical societies, the couple has gone on to initiate projects and develop relationships that are making a very real difference to conservation efforts to protect, promote and reforest native plants.
Their work to reforest the Wakatipu Islands that were decimated by fire in the mid 90’s has morphed into the formation of the Wakatipu Reforestation Trust (WRT). The WRT has set up a community nursery and planting programme that has, in it’s first year, clocked up 300 registered volunteers, 2000 volunteer hours and 45 planted sites across the Wakatipu Basin.
The nursery grows native plants for the reforestation of local tracts of public land and works with volunteers to plant out these areas. Most of the Wakatipu Basin is rural land with little native vegetation. The Simpsons have recognized that gullies and other difficult and unused tracts of land are ripe for reforestation.
The areas the JMCN plants out are on Queenstown Lake District public land or DOC land. The nursery also works in with Project Crimson (Rata) and DOC’s Project Gold (Kowhai).
Established in March 2014 the JMCN has hired a part time Conservation Coordinator, Ange van der Laan, funded by the DOC Community Fund and has over 300 volunteers on their mailing list. In their first year they clocked up over 2000 volunteer hours. They have a management agreement with DOC for their work, which includes support for planting projects, educational activities and joint management of the coordinator role. The WRT are aided by DOC Community Ranger Susie Geh.
They are keen to involve as many people as possible. Ange organises school and community groups for nursery and planting out sessions. There are five schools and a pre-school presently involved in work on specific sites. There are also corporate groups, such as a group of Countdown employees and people from Crowne Plaza, who come out on planting days.
The WRT run regular Wednesday morning sessions at the nursery for potting up, maintenance and weeding.
The Wakatipu Reforestation Trust runs the Community Nursery and seeks the funding for the nursery.
The nursery is named after prominent local woman Jean Malpas, whose environmental trust awarded funding to establish the nursery and continues to support it. Jean was very active environmentally and “she’d been intimately involved in the Queenstown Lakes District, working to get environmental protection written into the scheme”.
The WRT applies for grants and funds the nursery. They need funds predominantly for the seedlings and plant protection materials.
The WRT was born from the Wakatipu Islands Reforestation Trust which was set up to plant out burnt areas after fires on Pigeon Island (in middle of the lake). With the work nearly complete on the islands after 20 years, Neill and Barb were seeking new areas to plant with natives.
Barb says she developed her passion for native botany from Neill, Neill says he “just always had it”. His mother was a gardener and he took a botany course earlier on that led eventually to him and Barb joining the Wellington Botanical Society. They were actively involved, travelling through from Wanganui where they then lived. Neill says the Wellington Botanical society had a strong influence on him and the late Tony Druce, ”the best field botanist in New Zealand”, was his mentor.
Neill then set up the Wanganui Botanical Society and eventually became an honorary botanist for the Wanganui Museum. Neill also went onto complete a botany degree and worked for DOC. He retired 20 years ago but continues to consult privately on native planting. An example is Jack’s Point, a major new sub division development where 80% of the plantings will be native. “Some private individuals are doing amazing things, for example 23,000 native plants on one property alone”.