Volunteer cavalry on the hunt for wilding conifers

Department of Conservation —  05/04/2016

While many New Zealanders spent Easter weekend hunting for Easter eggs, a crew of keen volunteers on horseback were out in their big back yard searching for wilding conifers/pines. Anne McLean from the QEII National Trust shares a story about their long weekend weedmuster.

Wilding conifers are a huge problem, invading massive areas of high country in New Zealand.  Approximately 1.7 million hectares, almost 6% of New Zealand, have already been affected to some extent by these unwanted trees, and the problem just keeps growing.

Wilding conifer seedlings in hard to access areas are expensive to control using contractors and helicopter access. Using a ‘conifer cavalry’ of volunteers on horseback was the brainchild of Jesse Bythell, a QEII National Trust regional representative. Her novel idea combines her love of horse riding and her passion for protecting the environment!


The volunteers ready for the weekend. Photo: QEII National Trust.

Ten volunteers set up camp in a paddock on Coronet Peak Station and spent all of Saturday and Sunday in and out of the saddle searching for and destroying wilding conifers on the Crown Range between Queenstown and Wanaka. This is one of several models supported by the QEII National Trust Weedbusting Project for community involvement in controlling the conifers at low densities.

An important element of the Easter weekend event was to put together a  ‘how to’ guide for people who are interested in the idea for other parts of New Zealand, including health and safety plans, mapping of the work done, and logistics of feeding and watering both two and four legged participants in remote areas.

When planning the work Jesse looked for an outlying area of wilding conifer saplings at a low enough density for the riders to control. It is a great way of engaging a different part of the community, raising awareness about weed issues and up-skilling riders up to control wilding conifers.  It is a useful approach in areas where trekking in on foot would be tedious and time consuming.

Volunteer Eva Leunissen

Volunteer Eva Leunissen deals to a lodgepole pine while her horses Poki and Brucie wait patiently. Photo: QEII National Trust

The owner of the property has an extensive wilding conifer control programme in place, and further supported this pilot project by supplying food for volunteers and the horses. The neighbours also helped out by donating the use of their land, woolshed, and shearers quarters for the group to camp and to paddock the horses.

QEII Community Weedbusting Project Advisor Anne Brow helped to organise the weekend and described it as a win for everyone. The land manager gets help with weed issues, spread of wildings from scattered seedlings is reduced, and recreational riders get to enjoy high country areas that they usually wouldn’t be able to access.

Alex Brown Hunt

Alex Brown Hunt conquers a multi-stemmed lodgepole pine with his trust steed Harley watching on. Photo: QEII National Trust

The volunteers believed the ride made the work fun and special. Volunteer Gilly Darby brought her young mare Fi along for the weekend of recreation (with an environmental angle). Another volunteer Sam Lewis believed doing the work has opened his eyes to weeds – he now sees them everywhere!

Hundreds of invasive weeds are smothering our native forests, wetlands and coastal areas, harming our wildlife and transforming our natural landscapes. The QEII National Trust Weedbusting Project is a partnership between the QEII National Trust and Weedbusters NZ.  The work is funded through the DOC Community Fund, and supports the War on Weeds. We invite you to get involved.


2 responses to Volunteer cavalry on the hunt for wilding conifers

    Richard Hursthouse 05/04/2016 at 7:36 am

    This is a great story BUT ……. it is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed to deal with this issue properly. What is needed is a well worked up plan to eliminate wilding pines. This means dealing with source populations in special areas as well. Funding for this work should come from a variety of sources but include a levy on forestry which is the source of much of the problem.


      Yes, it surely is a drop in the ocean, on the other hand it is so encouraging that there is awareness and that people have a heart to do something, taking responsibility as individuals and not wait for politics to step in. That would probably happen only when the government would see tourism (read: money) go down once the countryside would have become one big pine forest.
      And yes, it does require more at a grander scale. But I applaud the initiative. A very enjoyable and useful weekend! Proud.