The Marshalls began formally protecting native bush on their Otautau farm 20 years ago, and spend still Southland nights basking in the bird calls and wildlife shows which are the fruits of their labour.
As they have been putting almost a third of their 16 hectare property into the QEII Trust, native trees have flourished, the avian acquaintances are active and the Marshall’s are proud of what they have achieved.
“Our son calls us tree huggers. What’s wrong with protecting it for our grandchildren?,” Jenny said.
“If everyone does a little something towards protecting what we’ve got left, we will be OK.”
The Marshalls have two covenanted areas. There are 4912 registered and formalised covenants in the country, plus 299 approved but as-yet unregistered covenants, according to QEII’s latest annual report.
Of Southland’s total 3.1 million hectares, 10,270ha are in approved or formalised covenants.
“Our piece of paradise”
“All you hear is birds. It’s just beautiful, I love it,” Jenny said.
From their deck, the Marshalls can see the Kepler and Eyre mountains, Mount Hamilton and Mid Dome.
It is a relaxing and grand vantage point.
“The view is magic from here,” Jenny said.
The wood pigeons fly down along their covenant gully, among the willows and kahikatea.
They lived in a caravan after they subdivided and sold some of the property in 2014.
The temporary lodgings were a stop-gap for their home overlooking the mountains. They celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary this month.
Bill is quick to list the trees the covenants guard; native fuchsia, pittosporum, mingimingi and kahikatea among others, “all important food, or nectar-bearing plants, for the tui and bell birds”.
“The trees are great habitat for warblers and wax-eyes. In the winter-time especially we find a lot of wax-eyes come down from higher up on The Longwoods,” Bill said.
“I can sell this place with a QEII [covenant] and whoever buys the place can’t touch it,” Bill said.
“Once you put a bulldozer into that, it’s gone, it’ll never come back again. So it makes sense to hang onto the little bits we’ve got.”
There are 405 approved or formalised covenants in Southland. That is the sixth most of the 16 regions.
Northland has the most with 781, Nelson the least with 19.
The catalyst for the Marshalls putting their land in the covenant was protecting it for the betterment of the environment.
When it came time to sell, a property with a new house and protected QEII areas could also attract attention from buyers, Bill said.
“I’m not a tree-hugger in any shape or form, but I’m just trying to be practical.”
Before the sections were put in the covenant, someone could easily walk through the bush, now the undergrowth was thick.
“If you’ve got a bit of land that’s not productive land, and it’s in native bush, it’s just as easy to fence it off as do anything else with it,” he said.
QEII Trust 2021 financials
- $5.3m operating revenue
- $7.1m operating expenditure
- Net pre-1995 fencing provision and costs of $1m
- $1.6m investment income
- Equals $815,554 profit
“It might not be pristine, prime bush, but it will come. Give it time. It’s certainly prettier to look at than pine tress.”
If a Southlander had the opportunity to covenant their land, Bill said “it’d be silly not to do”.
They keep the gorse down from the edges of the covenant areas, and shoot possums with their grandchildren.
QEII Trust Soutland representative Jesse Bythell said a rich diversity of birds use the Marshall’s forest remnant, including kererū, shining cuckoo and moreporks.
There were several sensitive invertebrates living in the waterways inside the forest including caddisflies and South Island freshwater crayfish, whose conservation status is at risk and declining, she said.
These forest remnants were classified as chronically threatened which meant only between 10 and 20 per cent remained, Bythell said, as most of the original podocarp-hardwood forest in the Otautau area had been removed.
Of the 16 regional council areas, Southland’s median covenant area is third highest at 8.9ha, ahead of only Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay.
Otago is an outlier in terms of average covenant area. One 21,909ha covenant makes Otago’s standard covenant about eight times the national average.
Forest makes up 45 per cent of registered covenants. Twenty-seven per cent in grass or tussock land. The rest consists of wetland, exotic cover, scrub or other.
The vast majority of the covenanted grass or tussock land, 93 per cent, is in the country’s 17 largest covenants, each more than 1000ha.
In the 2019/20 year QEII approved 120 covenants, that increased to 134 the following year.
The trust recorded a $1.8m net operating deficit in 2021, but a total comprehensive profit of $815,554.
The trust’s annual operating budget is about $6m, of which about 80 per cent is government-funded through Vote Conservation and administered through a letter of expectation from the Minister of Conservation.
The rest comes from investment income, contestable funding, other grants, and donations.